IN NEWS: The Centre announced roll out of ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ to ensure that no poor person is deprived of getting subsidised food grains under food security scheme when he shifts from one place to another. This will also remove the chance of anyone holding more than one ration card to avail benefits from different states.
India’s public distribution system (PDS) is the largest food security programme in the world, which covers nearly 60% of the population.
The Centre is involved in procurement, storage, transportation, and allocation of foodgrains, while State governments take the accountability for distributing the same to the consumers via a network of Fair Price Shops.
PDS has often been criticised for its structure, incessant corruption and leakages, and inclusion and exclusion errors in identifying the beneficiaries.
The rolling out of the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013, and the overhauling of PDS in some states has created an aspiration that the system can be made effectual in making the households not only food secure, but also nutrition secure.
Computerisation of the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), intra-State portability of ration cards, launch of ePoS transactions portal and improving foodgrain management have been a staggering success. The PDS, however, has been marred by several factors.
SHORTCOMINGS IN THE SYSTEM:
The inferior quality of foodgrains, poor supervision of the Fair Price Shops (FPS) and lack of accountability have galvanised the levels of corruption and the very essence of the scheme has been diluted.
Identification of beneficiaries: The socioeconomic caste census (SECC) has not been used in many states for beneficiary identification. While there are concerns on the quality of SECC data, most states that are using the SECC for beneficiary identification have found the data to be fairly reliable. Bihar is a notable example where the use of SECC data for beneficiary identification has led to reduction in exclusion errors for the NFSA.
Phenomenon of ghost ration cards: There are two types of cards that need the urgent attention of authorities—one that have non-existent beneficiaries, either long dead or fake and the other which are in the names of people who are not even aware that they figure in the list of beneficiaries. Both feed off the foodgrain stocks that should actually be reaching poor people across the country.
Uneven distribution of Food generations, procurement and distribution. For example: north eastern states are very far from Punjab and Haryana, from where wheat is procured. To transport food grains from Punjab to far flung areas in North east will entail cost and time both.
REFORMING THE PDS:
To improve the overall functioning of the PDS, the monitoring system needs to be strengthened, beneficiaries’ awareness regarding entitlement and issue price has to be increased, and modern techniques need to be adopted to curb malpractices in the system.
Introducing electronic weighing machines in place of conventional ones to curtail weight-related anomalies could be considered. Though Karnataka has adopted this on a pilot basis in a few districts, it is not fully functional due to glitches such as frequent power cuts and problems with internet connectivity.
To tackle awareness-related issues, it should be made mandatory for all fair price shops to maintain display boards containing information about entitlement, availability of food grain and issue price. The information on the board should be written legibly and in the local language. NGOs and government officials should disseminate PDS-related information among those who cannot read.
Since each state has invested heavily in PDS and revamping is already under way, it would be cost-effective to make it as a platform to achieve some of the proposed goals under NNM. Clearly, PDS can play a pivotal role in bringing convergence and making India’s two important missions—food and nutrition security—successful in a short time.
This should be cause for a clarion call that the PDS undergoes a complete overhaul, in which the government machinery must provide the policy and institutional framework for procurement. There should be strong political determination and citizens’ cooperation to make this scheme a success.
PREVIOUS YEARS UPSC MAINS QUESTIONS:
What do you mean by Minimum Support Price (MSP)? How will MSP rescue the farmers from the low-income traps? (2018)
Examine the role of supermarkets in supply chain management of fruits, vegetables and food items. How do they eliminate the number of intermediaries? (2018)
Assess the role of National Horticulture Mission (NHM) in boosting the production, productivity and income of horticulture farms. How far has it succeeded in increasing the income of farmers? (2018)
How do subsidies affect the cropping pattern, crop diversity and economy of farmers? What is the significance of the crop insurance, minimum support price and food processing for small and marginal farmers? (2017)
In what way could replacement of price subsidy with direct benefit Transfer (DBT) change the scenario of subsidies in India? Discuss. (2015)