Reimagining ration shops

Context: The Food Corporation of India (FCI) has procured over 20 million tonnes of wheat this season, with Punjab, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh contributing over 98% of the total to the central pool.

Punjab is expected to be the largest contributor to wheat procurement despite producing less wheat than Uttar Pradesh. Farmers in Punjab who used zero tillage and mulched paddy straw at the time of sowing wheat through smart happy seeders were able to achieve a high yield, while others who experienced heavy rain had lower yields. Mulching paddy straw helps increase organic carbon in soil and can be a good case for India to show to the agriculture group of G20, with Punjab Agricultural University and Borlaug Institute for South Asia leading the way.

Public distribution System (PDS):

  • The Public Distribution System (PDS) in India was established in June 1947 as a way to ensure that food grains are distributed at affordable prices and to manage emergency situations. 
  • Its primary goal is to provide subsidized food and non-food items to the country’s poor population. 
  • By helping to alleviate hunger, malnutrition, Anaemia, and other challenges faced by the poorest members of society, including women and children, PDS has played an important role in promoting socio-economic justice in India. 
  • The PDS is managed jointly by the Central and State/UT Governments. 
  • It works under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution.
  • The Central Government, through the Food Corporation of India (FCI), is responsible for procurement, storage, transportation, and bulk allocation of food grains to the State Governments. On the other hand, the operational responsibility, including allocation within the State, identifying eligible families, issuing Ration Cards, and overseeing the functioning of Fair Price Shops (FPSs), falls under the purview of the State Governments. 
  • The PDS currently distributes wheat, rice, sugar, and kerosene to States/UTs for distribution. Some States/UTs also use PDS outlets to distribute other essential items like pulses, edible oils, iodized salt, spices, etc.

Issues in PDS:

  • Targeting: The targeting of the PDS is often flawed, with many deserving beneficiaries being excluded while others who are not in need receive the benefits. 
  • Leakage and corruption: There are high levels of leakage and corruption in the PDS, with food grains being diverted to the black market or sold to non-eligible beneficiaries. 
  • Poor quality of food grains: The food grains provided through the PDS are often of low quality, with high levels of adulteration and not fit for human consumption. 
  • Inadequate coverage: The PDS does not cover all deserving households, leaving many without access to essential food grains. 
  • Inefficient distribution mechanism: The distribution mechanism of PDS is often inefficient, with delays and irregularities in the supply of food grains to the beneficiaries. 
  • Lack of awareness: Many of the beneficiaries are not aware of their entitlements under the PDS, and hence, do not receive the full benefits of the system. 
  • Storage and transportation issues: The storage and transportation infrastructure for the food grains is often inadequate, leading to spoilage and wastage of the grains. 
  • Price disparities: The prices of food grains provided through PDS vary across states, resulting in disparities and discrimination. 
  • Limited nutritional diversity: The food grains provided through PDS are limited in terms of nutritional diversity, leading to malnutrition and health issues among the beneficiaries.

Way Forward:

  • Professor Ashok Gulati suggests the introduction of more nutritious food in PDS that is climate resilient, such as millets, pulses, and oilseeds. 
  • Upgrading 10% of the five-lakh odd fair price shops as Nutritious Food Hubs (NFHs) and offering electronic vouchers for targeted beneficiaries.
  • FCI should outsource its stocking operations to various agencies such as Central Warehousing Corporation, State Warehousing Corporation to bring down costs of storage. (Shantakumar committee)
  • Covered and plinth (CAP) storage should be gradually phased out. The Movement of grains needs to be gradually containerized to reduce transit losses.
  • End to End computerization to reduce leakages in PDS and setting up of vigilance committees to check pilferage from PDS.

UPSC Mains 2022 (GS III) 

What are the major challenges of Public Distribution System (PDS) in India? How can it be made effective and transparent?

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