While there is no clarity on the amount of money transacted during that period, an indication is that on April 9 alone Rs 2004 crore was sent across the network. (Photo: iStock)
On March 30, six days after the prime minister announced a 21-day lockdown in India, the government set a new record : officials across departments carried out 21.9 million financial transactions online, the highest in a single day.
The financial year was coming to a close and many to vendors and beneficiaries of welfare schemes had to be sent out in the last week of March and the first two weeks of April (CHECK) . For a team of 16 from the National Informatics Centre (NIC), the brief was clear– prepare for an avalanche of online transactions on the Public Financial Management System or PFMS.
A senior official at NIC said on condition of anonymity that between March 24 and 31, there were 72 million transactions hosted on the system, more than double of the 34.4 million transactions during the same period that the PFMS hosted in 2019.
While there is no clarity on the amount of money transacted during that period, an indication is that on April 9 alone Rs 2004 crore was sent across the network.
Many of the the transactions were towards PM Kisan, the cash payout scheme for farmers. “Of the 21.9 million transactions on March 30, 19.7 million were direct benefit transfers for PM Kisan,” said the official.
The payouts for PM Kisan, a scheme under which farmers get Rs 2000 every four months, have always mostly happened online. The scheme was launched last year in February. The challenge for NIC this time, however, was to ensure that payments are validated and sent out to the 80 million beneficiaries of the scheme by officers from their homes. And that, in doing so, the officers do not face technical problems at their end.
All of these transactions were hosted on a management information system (MIS), developed by the NIC sometime in 2013. Known as the Public Financial Management System (PFMS) and accessible online, the software application in its earlier avatar was known as the Central Plan Scheme Monitoring System (CPSMS). It was aimed to bring in transparency to government programs.
The application is available on work computers in all government offices through a virtual private network (VPN). The first challenge, the official added, was to ensure that all designated officers had access to it from their homes.
In every ministry, only certain officials can greenlight payments and funds transfers. And before the lockdown, most of the permissions were given out on paper, hand-delivered by a network of clerks.
However, for times like these when physical signatures cannot be accessed, the system has the option of digital signatures, which designated officials can issue from the system online. To access them, a designated officer needs to enrol at the PFMS portal through a Digital Signature Certificate enrolment module and validate credentials.
Nagesh Shastri, deputy director general of the NIC said that apart from direct benefits transfer, other payments made trough the system include funds sent to states and implementing agencies. “The system is integrated with core banking and 400 banks, including the postal bank network, is linked to the system,” said Shastri.
Shastri said that the most common problem faced by officials had to do with authorisations of digital certificates. They were all worked out, he added. “o keep it secure, NIC used only its own infrastructure; the central database of the PFMS is in Hyderabad.