Technology at the core of foreign aid distribution, ensuring full transparency: Niti Aayog CEO

The task of managing the flow of foreign aid is enormous Niti aayog CEO Amitabh Kantwho heads a body charged with overseeing the distribution of aid material. In an interview with Surojit Gupta and Sidhartha from TOI, he explains the process and how technology was used to make it transparent. Excerpts:
Is it criticized that hospitals and institutions in need do not become part of the aid?
There are three channels through which aid is obtained: government to government (G2G), private to government (P2G) and through states, NGOs and civil society organizations (CSOs) directly to those affected by Covid-19. In P2G, NITI Aayog coordinates with the potential donors via the CovAID platform, which enables individual and private donors to fulfill their donation intentions and to track the status of their shipments. We have used the technology for G2G and P2G channels and have two state-of-the-art portals that ensure that the entire process is completely digital. Allocation is made by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in accordance with a Standard Working Process (SOP).
Given the limited amount of aid received, we cannot afford to spread it too thinly, so an optimal allocation must be made. Medical hubs and states / UTs with high case loads take precedence. This is constantly changing as different states peak at different times. We also value states / UTs with scarce resources as well as those with physical connectivity issues that would result in slow logistics movement if sent at the last moment.
What is the scope of the process and how much of it is automated? How has the flow of aid been in the last few days?
The scope of the operation is enormous. We have received over 2 million individual units of various items. Technology is at the core of this entire process of international aid received and distributed. We have developed robust and efficient portals for P2G and G2G channels with comprehensive visibility that ensures not only the rapid distribution of aid, but also its real-time tracking and monitoring. The portals were developed in collaboration with private technology companies such as Flipkart, Nagarro, Cloudstack, MapMyIndia, Freshworks, Amazon and Microsoft. We have integrated logistics service providers, Indian Airforce, Indian Airlines and other interest groups on the platforms so that the delivery of aid to the end mile is smooth and transparent. We have completely eliminated the need for manual intervention and paperwork during handovers.
This mechanism also enables real-time tracking of shipments through the GPS tracking system that is present in all trucks that carry the orders. The use of broadcasts can also be tracked, and a node officer from each state indicates the ultimate destination of any aid allocated to a particular state that is fed into the platform. The platform tracks the location and delivery of the items and sends reminders of status in the event that an assigned item has not been delivered to a specific location. The state knot officers also have an opportunity to address issues such as item and specification mismatches. Overall, we have received the most items from the US, UK, Australia, United Arab Emirates, Canada, Israel, the Netherlands, Germany, Egypt, Switzerland, Italy, Kuwait, Singapore, and Ireland. We also received 89 shows from the P2G channel all assigned while 39 are on the go.
How do you convince foreign and private companies that have donated aid of the transparent process of the allocation?
We have an extremely robust monitoring system that not only tracks the location and status of your shipments, but also checks the utilization. This is done using geotagged photos and videos that must be uploaded by the final destination institutions. This function ensures that all items reach their destinations and are in operation. It was introduced to ensure that life-saving devices are used immediately after delivery. The usage information can be passed on to donor countries and private donors to inform them about the unrestricted use of the aid provided.
Despite the steps taken, why do people still complain of delays and difficulties?
We face a number of challenges throughout the process. Sometimes we receive items that do not meet medical specifications or voltage specifications. Then the arriving flights or shipments sometimes deviate from the predetermined times, which brings with it some logistical challenges. We also need to ensure a continuous cold chain for some drugs such as tocilizumab. In fact, almost 95% of the products received so far have been delivered
The rest is only in shipping because it would have been received in the last two days. All previously received items have been delivered. I would like to emphasize that despite the challenges, we made sure that all items received are dispatched immediately. No item is pending or delayed, either by customs or for any other reason.
Several donors are struggling to provide support material to NGOs that have not complied with the new FCRA standards. They are unwilling to accept the donations despite the government extending the deadline. Is it time to put it on the back burner until the pandemic ends?
Civil society organizations / NGOs have played an important and significant role in the fight against the pandemic. This war must be waged locally on a decentralized basis. Existing FCRA holders have been allowed by the Home Office (MHA) to open their FCRA accounts in a designated bank branch by June 30th. MHA has also extended the validity of FCRA registration certificates to September 30th. This deadline was extended, taking into account the COVID-19 situation and the associated requirements, in order to ensure a smooth transition to the changed FCRA regime.
Do you need more equipment and help? Has the situation stabilized?
We have received help from 40 of the 50 countries that have so far pledged to help. We expect 22 more shipments. The situation is evolving dynamically, and as you have seen, different cities and states peak at different times. Places that had extremely high case numbers a few weeks ago are now declining, while in other areas infections are on the rise. We still see many falls from Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. At the national level, recovery rates are steadily improving, and with regards to vaccination, we have given over 19 doses of Crore so far. As already explained, the SOP takes into account the case load and the scarcity of resources for the allocation, among other factors. Therefore, we would continue to assign dynamically through the same process to ensure optimal distribution. Our robust tracking and monitoring mechanism also ensures on-time delivery and effective use.
What role did the private sector and NGOs play during the pandemic?
The private sector has played a very important role and its efforts range from expanding the oxygen supply chain to providing life-saving medical devices. Let me give you a few examples: Amazon, Microsoft, and the Philips Foundation, in partnership with Shell, Naspers, and Johnson and Johnson, are bringing in life-saving medical devices such as ventilators and concentrators. In terms of oxygen supply, Reliance, INOX Air Products, JSW, Linde and Tata play a critical role in meeting the increased medical oxygen demand in India. Tata Trusts, Escorts build facilities with more than 1000 beds, while Honda, Hero Moto Corp build facilities with more than 100 beds. Industry associations, meanwhile, are helping the government strengthen the oxygen supply chain, organize medical equipment, and bring together private sector companies to vaccinate workers and assist the government in raising awareness. We’ve regularly partnered with over a Lakh NGO and CSO and invited them to help fight the pandemic.
These NGOs / CSOs work at the grassroots level, assisting the district and local governments in their endeavors, including distributing food, masks, disinfectants, supporting institutions and health centers, providing livelihoods, providing psychosocial counseling and raising awareness of the importance vaccination and COVID appropriate behavior that dispels myths among others. CSOs and NGOs were also instructed
make use of NITI Aayog and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation were jointly developed by the Department of Health and Family Welfare to create community-level awareness that the spread of COVID is tightly controlled and false information is not being spread.