Public distribution system (PDS) is an Indian food security system established by the Government of India under Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food, and Public Distribution and are managed jointly by state governments in India.
-> It distributes subsidized food and non-food items to India’s poor. It functions through a network of Fair Price Shops at a subsidized price on a recurring basis.
-> In People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India case, Supreme Court contended that the “Right to Food” is essential to the right to life as provided in Article 21 of the Constitution. In line with this Parliament passed the National Food Security Act (NFSA) in 2013.
-> The NFSA seeks to make the right to food a legal entitlement by providing subsidized food grains to almost two-thirds of the population.
-> It relies on the existing Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) mechanism to deliver these entitlements.
-> According to Article 47 of Indian constitution, it is the duty of the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health (DPSP).
History of PDS:
-> The first government intervention in the PDS in India started in 1940 during the interwar period.
-> The PDS network expanded in 1970s and 1980s, after the Green Revolution.
-> Till 1992, PDS was a general entitlement scheme for all consumers without any specific target.
-> But in 1992, PDS became RPDS (Revamped PDS) focussing the poor families, especially in the far-flung, hilly, remote and inaccessible areas.
-> In 1997 RPDS became TPDS (Targeted PDS) which established Fair Price Shops for the distribution of food grains at subsidized rates.
Importance of PDS:
-> In India, 28% of population is poor, PDS is an effective mechanism to support them with basic necessity of food & nutrition.
-> It has helped in stabilizing food prices and making food available to consumers at affordable prices.
-> It has helped in avoiding hunger and famine by supplying food from surplus regions of the country to deficient regions.
-> The system of minimum support price and procurement has contributed to increase in food grain production.
-> Food grains are directly purchased from farmers, assuring farmers with a greater price.
Issues with Public distribution system in India:
-> Instances of hunger occur despite granaries being full. This points to certain lacunae or inefficiency in the system.
-> High level of buffer stocks often leads to wastage of food grains and deterioration in quality.
-> Open-ended Procurement: All incoming grains accepted even if buffer stock is filled creating a shortage in the open market. The recent implementation of NFSA would only increase the quantum of procurement resulting in higher prices for grains.
-> The storage of food-grains inculcates high carrying costs on the government.
-> The provision of minimum support price has encouraged farmers to divert land from production of coarse grains that are consumed by poor, to rice and wheat.
-> Illicit Fair Price shops: The shop owners have created a large number of bogus cards or ghost cards(cards for nonexistent people) to sell food grains in the open market.
-> Leakage and diversion of food grains during transportation.
Inter-state disparity: A Case Study
1. Bihar –
-> The PDS in Bihar is afflicted with several problems like misappropriation of foodgrains at all levels, anomalies in distribution, inclusion and exclusion errors and large scale corruption.
-> The major reason for this state of affairs was the inadequate food production in the state which resulted in the absence of a strong food lobby in the state => making the poor virtually voiceless.
-> But some substantial changes can be noted like the introduction of a system of tracking coupons, preparing a new list of ration cards with the help of Socio-Economic Caste Census.
2. Chhattisgarh –
-> Initially upto 2004, problems in Chhattisgarh were due to irregular supply to the Fair Price Shops (FPS) and large scale diversion to open market. This was mainly due to the absence of appropriate incentive structure and suitable monitoring mechanism of the supply side.
-> To overcome the hurdle, the Chhattisgarh government introduced CPDS which changed the whole scenario.
-> Expansion of PDS coverage, reduction in PDS prices, doorstep delivery of grain, de-privatisation of ration shops and grievance redressal have helped in its improvement. Now, the state is a role model to be followed.
The reason for this huge state of difference is the lack of political will and urban bias of PDS which raises questions on its universal status. Corruption is rampant and therefore leakages are generally making PDS ineffective and impinges on its efficiency. Caste system also lodges its presence in rural areas, damaging the soul and spirit of PDS.
Steps to improve the distribution system:
-> JAM trinity to tackle inclusion and exclusion errors. It recognizes beneficiary through their biometrics and thus, reduces losses.
-> Technology Based reforms – End to end computerization would bring in transparency in the whole process. It would help to prevent leakages and diversion of food grains.
-> Aadhaar Linked and digitized ration cards – allows online entry and verification of beneficiary data.
-> Computerized Fair Price Shops with point of sale device to swap ration cards. It authenticates the beneficiaries and records the quantity of subsidized grains given to a family.
-> Use of Direct Benefit Transfer scheme – cash is transferred to the beneficiary’s account in lieu of foodgrains subsidy component. This will encourage the beneficiary to buy food grains from anywhere in the market.
-> Use of GPS technology – Use of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to track the movement of trucks carrying foodgrains from state depots to FPS which can help to prevent diversion.
-> SMS-based monitoring – Allows monitoring by citizens so they can register their mobile numbers and send/receive SMS alerts during dispatch and arrival of TPDS commodities.
-> Public Grievance Redressal Machineries, such as a toll-free number for call centers to register complaints or suggestions.
The Public Distribution System in the nation expedites the supply of food grains and delivery of necessary merchandises to poor people through a network of Fair Price Shops at a subsidized price on a regular basis.
The much-needed reforms in PDS are moving in the right direction and one can hope that the inefficiency in the system would be removed sooner to ensure the food security of millions of people in our country. In addition to this, the states have to come forward and play a greater role in the implementation of the PDS to make it successful.