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:
- 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.
- 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.