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Introduction

The Public Distribution System (PDS) is an Indian food security system that evolved as a system for distributing food grains at low cost and managing emergency situations. It provides subsidised food and non-food items to the poor of India. This programme began in June 1947. It operates on a recurring basis through a network of Fair Price Shops at a subsidised price.

According to the government, nearly 6.83 lakh tonnes (lt) of fortified rice were distributed through the Public Distribution System (PDS) in the second phase, which began in April of this year.

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PDS’s Importance

  • Food grains to the poor at prices lower than those found in private stores.
  • Food grains are purchased directly from farmers, ensuring farmers a higher price.
  • Make goods available to consumers, particularly the disadvantaged/vulnerable segments of society, at reasonable prices.
  • Correct existing supply and demand imbalances for consumer goods. Check for and prevent hoarding and black marketing of necessities.
  • Ensure social justice in the distribution of life’s necessities.
  • Even out price and availability fluctuations in mass consumption goods.
  • Support poverty-relief programmes, particularly rural employment programmes (SGRY/SGSY/IRDP/Mid-day meals, ICDS, DWCRA, SHGs, and Food for Work), as well as educational feeding programmes.

PDS Procurement’s Challenges:

  • Unrestricted Procurement: All incoming grains are accepted, even if buffer stock is depleted, causing a shortage in the open market.
  • The recently enacted National Food Security Act would only increase the quantity of procurement, resulting in higher grain prices.
  • The difference between required and available storage capacity.
  • The imposition of a minimum support price has encouraged farmers to shift land away from the production of coarse grains, which are consumed by the poor, and toward rice and wheat.
  • Inadequate storage capacity with FCI.
  • Food grains rotting or being damaged in CAP or Cover & Plinth storage.
  • Food grain storage imposes high carrying costs on the government.

Food grain allocation:

  • State identification of the poor is not foolproof. A large number of poor and needy people are excluded, and many fake cards are distributed.
  • Illicit Fair Price shops: The shop owners have made a large number of bogus cards or ghost cards (cards for non-existent people) in order to sell food grains on the open market.

Transportation:

  • Food grain leakage and diversion during transportation
  • Inequitable distribution of food production, procurement, and distribution. North-eastern states, for example, are very far from Punjab and Haryana, where wheat is procured. Transporting food grains from Punjab to remote areas in the North East will be costly and time-consuming.

Other issues: • Good quality food grains are frequently replaced with poor quality cheap food grains.

  • Because the public distribution system only includes a few food grains, such as wheat and rice, it does not meet the requirement for complete nutrition.
  • Reasonable Cost The shop owner obtains forged Ration cards and sells food grains on the open market.

The government is implementing PDS reforms.

  • Aadhaar Ration cards that are linked and digitised: This enables online data entry and verification for beneficiaries. It also allows beneficiaries to track their monthly entitlements and food grain consumption online.
  • Computerized Fair Price Shops: FPS are automated by installing a ‘Point of Sale’ device that allows the ration card to be swapped. It verifies the beneficiaries and keeps track of the amount of subsidised grains distributed to each family.
  • DBT: The Direct Benefit Transfer scheme transfers cash to beneficiaries’ accounts in place of the food grains subsidy component. They will be free to purchase food grains from any market. The States/UTs would need to complete the digitization of beneficiary data and seed Aadhaar and bank account details of beneficiaries before implementing this model. Cash transfers alone are estimated to save the government Rs. 30,000 crores per year.
  • Using GPS technology: Using Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to track the movement of trucks transporting food grains from state depots to FPS can help to prevent diversion.
  • SMS-based monitoring: Allows citizens to monitor by registering their mobile numbers and sending/receiving SMS alerts during the dispatch and arrival of TPDS commodities.
  • Utilization of a web-based citizens’ portal: Public Grievance Redressal Machineries, such as a toll-free number for call centres to register complaints or suggestions.

The way forward

  • Priority should be given to ensuring that the FCI’s operations are streamlined and fast-paced, as recommended by the Shanta Kumar Committee.
  • The country must build a 100 lakh tonne silo storage capacity. RITES has been tasked with changing the silo model, and they will submit their recommendations to FCI in 90 days.
  • FCI currently employs three types of labourers: departmental, daily payment system (DPS), and no work no pay workers, in addition to contractual labour. The Government of India is considering concluding the three separate agreements and bringing all FCI employees under a single, uniform system that will provide tenure stability and guaranteed wages for all.
  • A Human Resource Management System (HRMS) must be implemented to improve the use of information technology at FCI.

Conclusion

PDS has contributed to socioeconomic justice by reducing hunger, malnutrition, and anaemia among the poorest of the poor, BPL citizens, women, and children. The use of ICT to reduce touch points will increase the efficiency of PDS even further.