Public Distribution System
Among other interventions to revive demand in the economy and create employment, it is absolutely essential that food support in the form of free/subsidised grains (universal Public Distribution System) is made available to all without any disruptions.
- As a measure to address hunger, the central government announced as part of the ₹1.70-lakh crore relief package under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY) in the last week of March that it would provide 5kg of foodgrains and 1 kg of pulses for free to all those who are beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) for three months.
- Later, the Government has announced its expansion to cover an additional eight crore individuals for two months to ensure that migrants are included under the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan package. This basically meant each State being given foodgrain to the tune of 10% more than what they normally get under the NFSA.
- The government seems to be indicating that all problems of exclusion will be resolved once the One Nation One Ration Card scheme is expanded across the country, which is supposed to be achieved by March 2021. Under ONOC, a beneficiary can receive ration entitlements as under the NFSA from any fair price shop in the country using her/his Aadhaar number and biometric authentication.
Is it enough?
- Many States were already covering more beneficiaries than was allotted to them by the NFSA, and some States made additional temporary provisions for these two months.
- The experience of biometric authentication using electronic point of sale (ePoS) machines so far suggests that it results in exclusion of some of the most marginalised because of multiple reasons including network issues, authentication failure and so on. Keeping these concerns aside for now, it must be noted that ONOC is definitely not a solution to the immediate crisis of hunger that continues in the aftermath of the lockdown.
What needs to be done?
- What is required is a universal Public Distribution System (PDS) to ensure that nobody is excluded. What is also an urgent need now is for the food support announced as part of the PMGKAY and Atmanirbhar package to be extended for a longer period.
- If we include unmilled paddy, foodgrain stock in the Food Corporation of India has now risen to almost 100 million MTs while the buffer stock norms is 41 million MTs. A universalised Public Distribution System giving 10kg of foodgrains per person per month for another four months requires about 47 million tonnes in total, assuming that nearly 85% of the population actually lifts their rations. It can be safely assumed that the rich will automatically self-select themselves out of the system. This is indicative and the actual requirements would most likely be lower.