COVID-19 lockdown: Punjab’s ePMB app to schedule mandi arrivals

The COVA app will manage and track the mandi arrivals of the farmers in real time to check for mass gathering and take corrective action
Karanbir Singh Sidhu, Special Chief Secretary, Punjab

Due to the lockdown, the supply of essential services has been hit including the agricultural goods. The central Government has instructed states to resume the mandi operations. In Punjab, the mandi operations will be opened up in a phase wise manner, considering social distancing is adhered to.

Punjab is gradually opening up for the mandi operations. “The mandi operations is a huge affair in Punjab. The closing down of the mandi has resulted in a lot of pent up demand and thus the massive increase in the number of purchase centres. The farmers would want to rush to the mandi. However, it has to be done in an orderly manner,” saysKaranbir Singh Sidhu, Special Chief Secretary, Punjab. The issuance of curfew passes to the farmers has been staggered. To the extent that they will be tracked in real time to check for over-gathering of the trucks, trolleys.

It’s important to note, physical mandis continue to hold the same importance, when it has been four years since the National Agricultural Marketplace – eNAM was launched.

ePMB system for farmers
To save the general public from coronavirus in line with the guidelines issued by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, a unique initiative to ensure social distancing has been adopted by the Punjab Mandi Board.

The Punjab Mandi Board has launched an e-Pass system, ePMB with the help of Department of Governance Reforms and Public Grievances. This system enables Secretaries of Market Committees across the State to generate mobility passes for farmers by the Purchase Centers as well as by Arthiyas. “The software generates the required number of passes automatically based on historic data available with the Mandi Board. All Arthiyas shall be provided with 1 pass for 1 Trolley of wheat. The passes for a particular day are provided 3 days before that day to the Arthiyas to prevent any kind of rush. This automated logic-based technology solution removes all unnecessary bias and opportunities of favoritism, thus bringing in transparency to the process,” says an official from the Punjab Mandi Board.  

The Arthiyas shall distribute these mobility passes to their Farmers so that they may come on the designated date in the concerned Purchase Center. The Farmer shall also receive an SMS with Pass number and link to download the app. 

Apart from the ePass system, an mPass system has also been developed in the ePMB mobile application. A Unicode SMS is sent to every Arthiya at the time of pass issuance. The Arthiya can allocate the passes to trolley drivers through the built mPass system. The drivers can then download the mPass using the SMS received on his number and use this mPass at various Police Nakas for permitted mobility. The online vehicular management shall help the Board maintain law and order protocols as well as DHS guidelines in the Mandis.

“This is a unique technology solution that, with features such as geotagging, geohashing, alerts and emergency support, helps the government to manage mandi operations well and minimize disruptions to the food supply network in the country, while keeping government staff as well as citizens safe. A centralised dashboard which shall help regulate all trolleys and vehicular movement in the mandis has also been built. The farmers shall be alerted on rush spots at mandi gates. The dashboard shall alert on pass issuance, expiry and validity as well,” says the official.

As a central app for all the COVID-19 related management, the Government of Punjab has also designed the COVA app, available both on the Google and apple store – it has the statistical figures of the infected people and their coordinates superimposed on the Google map. The latest figures of the app downloads is 8.5 lakhs. 

The app also facilitates the issuance of the curfew pass. The application can be made online. It goes to the concerned authority and the final pass is directly provided online with the necessary authentication by the signatories, which can be the concerned district collector or the police official.

A recent upgrade in the app has been of the colour coding of the type of suspects who are near the user. The colour codes will alert – in orange for a ‘suspect’ and in red for a ‘confirmed’ patient’. This has been done using the bluetooth and GPS feature in the phone.

The COVA app also has a feature to track the movement of the rapid response teams (RRT), which answers to the distress call from the potential COVID-19 patients. The control room routes the closest and not occupied RRT to the patient’s location. This feature enables the Government to do an optimum utilisation of the available resources.     

On the proposal of the department of Communication and Information Technology, another important initiative by the state Govt has been of geo-fencing of the quarantined cases. “A couple of such cases were identified in a particular district a few days back. Immediately, a SMS and email trigger was received by the concerned health official, who rushed to the spot and identified the people,” says Sidhu. It goes without saying that such features do come with the assumptions that the quarantined people might not necessarily take the mobile with them when venturing out of the geo-fenced area.

The mobile numbers of all the home-quarantined citizens and confirmed cases are entered in COVA Punjab portal and also shared with department of police for telecom companies’ based location tracking. Telecom companies send hourly alerts of quarantine violations to district administration through health department. “There are reports of almost 200 breach violations on a daily basis,” informs the mandi official. (location movement beyond 500 meters from base location). 

Bluetooth based functionality send alerts to citizens in case they come within Bluetooth range of either a positive/confirmed case or a suspect case. A list of contacts shall be generated in case any quarantine patient who had mobile app installed and also Bluetooth enabled since he was home quarantined. Further any citizen can check distance of nearest COVID19 patient from his location and also from containment zone.

In case any suspect/citizen/quarantine get positive with Covid19 and he  had installed COVA Punjab app and had enabled his location and Bluetooth, a list of locations he has visited and list of persons he was in contact with can be easily generated. This shall bring maximum efficiency  to contact tracing.

Punjab is also looking to Kerala in terms of how they have used technology and one of the ways – As per an Indian Express report, has been to extensively use tele-counselling for the quarantined patients, which has proved impactful. Over 1058 personnel have done tele-counselling of 1,87,465 quarantined patients. 

corona viruscovaCovid-19epassepmbKaranbir Singh SidhumandiPunjabSpecial Chief Secretary
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