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India’s public distribution system (PDS) is in danger of being derailed in several States:

Context:

  • India’s public distribution system (PDS) is in danger of being derailed in several States across the country.

Public Distribution System:

  • The Public Distribution System (PDS) evolved as a system for distribution of food grains at affordable prices and management of emergency situations.
  • 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. This scheme was launched in June 1947.
  • It functions through a network of Fair Price Shops at a subsidized price on a recurring basis.

History of PDS

  • Till 1992, PDS was a general entitlement scheme for all consumers without any specific target.
  • But in 1992, PDS became RPDS (Revamped PDS) focusing 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.

Significance of the Public distribution system in India:

The following are the advantages of the public distribution system:

  • It has helped in stabilising 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.

Criticisms of PDS:

  • The system is blamed for inefficiency and rural-urban biasness.
  • It is frequently being criticized for corruption and black marketing.
  • PDS dealers often give less than what they are entitled to, and pocket the rest.
  • Food grains supplied by ration shops are either not enough to meet demand or are of inferior quality.
  • Leakages in PDS:Leakages refer to food grains not reaching intended beneficiaries.
  • Storage of food grains is another challenge.
  • Poor quality of food grains:  Poor quality of food may impact the willingness of people to buy food from fair price shops, and may have an adverse impact on their health.

India’s public distribution system (PDS) is in danger of being derailed in several States:

For example:

Jharkhand:

  • Jharkhand is a prime example of this problem.
  • By mid-2016, the PDS in Jharkhand had greatly improved, partly due to a series of reforms inspired by Chhattisgarh’s experience and intensified under the National Food Security Act (NFSA).
  • The state government has made Aadhaar-based biometric authentication compulsory for PDS users.
  • Large number of people like vulnerable groups such as widows and the elderly people found themselves excluded from the PDS.
  • There is a huge corruption involved in the system.
  • The mass-cancellation of Aadhaar-less ration cards, without verification and without even informing the victims, was both inhuman and illegal.
  • Jharkhand is among the worst cases of destabilisation of the PDS, but similar moves are happening in other States.
  • Most of them are under tremendous pressure from the Central government to impose Aadhaar-based biometric authentication or move towards DBT.

Rajasthan:

  • In Rajasthan, the biometric authentication has caused enormous damage, evident even in the government’s own transactions data.

Chhattisgarh:

  • Even Chhattisgarh, known for its model PDS, is under pressure to follow the diktats of the Central government and adopt Aadhaar-based technology.

Reforms needed in PDS:

  • Use of innovative schemes: Innovative schemes lie use of Cash Transfer, Food Coupons etc.
  • Regular supply of good quality of grains.
  • Improvement in the viability of Fixed Price shops.
  • Introduction of more effective Management Information System.
  • 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
  • Use of web-based citizens portal:Public Grievance Redressal Machineries, such as a toll-free number for call centers to register complaints or suggestions.

Way ahead:

  • The need of the hour is PDS reforms to ensure that public distribution functions the way it is intended. Technology based reforms are suggested.
  • 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 to a great extent.The different type’s reforms undertaken by different states are:
  • Adhaar Linked and digitized ration cards: This allows online entry and verification of beneficiary data. It also enables online tracking of monthly entitlements and off-take of foodgrains by beneficiaries.
  • Computerized Fair Price Shops: FPS automated by installing ‘Point of Sale ‘device to swap the ration card. It authenticates the beneficiaries and records the quantity of subsidized grains given to families.
  • Door-to- door delivery: Provisions of door-to-door delivery to ensure that right amount of material reaches the beneficiary at the right time is the need of the hour.
  • Transparency: There is need to increase greater transparency

Conclusion:

Delivery of welfare programme is not dependent on whether cash or food is delivered, but on political and administrative will, and public vigilance and organsiation.

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