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Posts Tagged ‘Below Poverty Line’

Ministry of Consumer Affairs launches National Transparency Portal on PDS

November 2nd, 2012 2 comments

A recent news report has discussed the methods by which states such as Chattisgarh have attempted to reform the Public Distribution System (PDS).  Chattisgarh has computerised its PDS supply chain and introduced smart cards as part of a slew of measures to plug pilferage and weed out corruption in the system.  In an effort to create a national computerised database for PDS, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs has launched an online National Transparency Portal for the Public Distribution System.  The portal aims to provide end-to-end computerisation of PDS; it is a single platform in the public domain for all PDS related information.

The PDS is a centrally sponsored scheme that entitles beneficiaries to subsidised foodgrains every month.  Currently, beneficiaries are divided into the following groups: Below Poverty Line (BPL), Above Poverty Line and Antodaya Anna Yojana.  As such, several challenges have been identified in the implementation of PDS.  Some of them are as follows:

  1. Targeting errors: Separating beneficiaries of the PDS into three categories requires their classification and identification.  Targeting mechanisms, however, have been prone to large inclusion and exclusion errors.  In 2009, an expert group estimated that about 61% of the eligible population was excluded from the BPL list while 25% of non-poor households were included in the BPL list.
  2. Large leakages and diversion of subsidized foodgrain:  Foodgrain is procured by the centre and transported from the central to state godowns.  Last mile delivery from state godowns to the Fair Price Shop (FPS) where beneficiaries can purchase grain with ration cards, is the responsibility of the state government.  Large quantities of foodgrain are leaked and diverted into the open market during this supply chain.

The creation of the e-portal could help track these issues more effectively and increase transparency in the system. The portal contains information relating to FPS and ration cards attached to the FPS.  It is likely that this will help weed out bogus ration cards and improve targeting of subsidies.  The portal also has information on capacity utilization of Food Corporation of India, state storage godowns, and data on central pool stocks.  This helps track storage supplies of grains at each level and aims to prevent leakage of grain.

With respect to data on PDS in states, the portal hosts information such as the central orders on monthly allocation of foodgrain to states, state-specific commodity sale prices, lifting position of states, etc. for public view.  All states and union territories will be required to maintain and update the data on the portal.

The reforms come at a time when the National Food Security Bill, 2011 is pending in Parliament.  The Bill aims to deliver foodgrain entitlements through Targeted PDS to 75% of the rural and 50% of the urban population.  The Bill is currently under examination by the Standing Committee of Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution.  It proposes reforms to the TPDS, which include the application of information and communication technology, including end-to-end computerisation.  These reforms seek to ensure full transparency of records in the PDS and prevent diversion of foodgrains.  The creation of the e-portal might be a step towards reforming the PDS.

For an analysis of the National Food Security Bill, see here.

Guesstimating Access to Food Security

April 7th, 2010 1 comment

The empowered group of ministers (EGoM) met recently to review the draft food security bill. Two issues have been reported to have gained prominence in their discussions – the exact number of poor families that are likely to be beneficiaries under the Food Security Act and reforming of the targeted public distribution system.

On the issue of estimating poverty, it is reported that the Planning Commission has been asked to submit a report in three weeks on the number of  (BPL) families that are likely to be legally entitled to food under the said Act.

The Minister of Agriculture is reported to have said “It is up to them [Planning Commission] whether they base it [BPL list] on the Tendulkar Committee report or the earlier N.C. Saxena panel or the Wadhwa committee.”

The estimation of poor persons in India involves two broad steps:

(i) fixing a threshold or poverty line that establishes poverty, and

(ii) counting the number of people below this line.

Estimating these numbers is a contentious issue – ridden by debates around norms and parameters for defining poverty, methodology to estimate poverty, etc.

The Planning Commission estimates the percentage and number of BPL persons separately in rural and urban areas from a large sample survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) which operates under the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.

In addition various government social sector schemes are targeted specifically at the poor and require the government to identify BPL beneficiaries.  For this purpose the Ministry of Rural Development designs a BPL census and that is conducted by the States/UTs.  The BPL census website gives data on BPL households for 2002 based on the poverty estimates for 1999-2000, by state, district and block.

The targeted public distribution system was recently subjected to scrutiny by a Supreme Court appointed vigilance committee headed by Justice D P Wadhwa. Amongst many issues, the committee reported that “the PDS is inefficient and corrupt.  There is diversion and black-marketing of PDS food grain in large scale.  Subsidized PDS food grain does not reach the poor who desperately need the same.  These poor people never get the PDS food grain in proper quantity and quality.”

The two issues highlighted here are important to ensure that the proposed legislation on food security is not a leaky bucket in the making.   As the draft food security bill is not in the public domain it is difficult to comment on how the government is thinking on length and breadth of issues that govern giving access to food security.