Public Distribution System

Mains Marks Booster     5th August 2023        
output themes

The public distribution system is a food security system established under ministry of consumer affairs, food and public distribution. It includes within its fold a government sponsored chain of appx 5.35 lakh fair price shops entrusted with work of distributing basic food and non-food commodities to needy section of society at very cheap price.

The responsibility of PDS is jointly shared by central and state governments

  • Central government - through FCI, undertake procurement, storage, transportation and bulk allocation of food grains to the state governments.
  • State government - identification of beneficiaries, issues of ration cards, supervision of functioning of price shops.

Under PDS, presently the commodities namely wheat, rice and kerosene are being allocated to states / UTs for distribution.

Objective of PDS

  • To provide essential consumer goods at cheap and subsidized prices to the consumer.
  • To insulate them from the impact of rising prices of these commodities.
  • To maintain the nutritional status of our population.
  • To put indirect check on the open market price of various items.

Evolution of PDS

  • Public Distribution System in 1960s: PDS, with its focus on distribution of foodgrains in urban scarcity areas, had emanated from the critical food shortages of 1960s.  As the national agricultural production had grown in the aftermath of Green Revolution, the outreach of PDS was extended to tribal blocks and areas of high incidence of poverty in the 1970s and 1980s.
  • Revamped Public Distribution System (RPDS):1992 
  • With a view to strengthen and streamline the PDS as well as to improve its reach in the far-flung, hilly, remote and inaccessible areas where a substantial section of the poor live. 
  • It covered 1775 blocks wherein area specific programmes such as the Drought Prone Area Programme (DPAP),
  • Integrated Tribal Development Projects (ITDP),
  • Desert Development Programme (DDP) were being implemented and in certain Designated Hill Areas (DHA) which were identified in consultation with State Governments for special focus.
  • Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS): 1997
  • With focus on the poor families. The scheme, when introduced, was intended to benefit about 6 crore poor families for whom a quantity of about 72 lakh tonnes of food grains was earmarked annually.
  • Antodaya Anna Yojana (AAY):
    • AAY was a step in the direction of making TPDS aim at reducing hunger among the poorest segments of the BPL population. The scale of issue that was initially 25 kg per family per month was increased to 35 kg per family per month with effect from 1st April 2002.

National Food Security Act, (NFSA) 2013

  • Coverage and entitlement -NFSA covers up to 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population
  • Priority households are entitled to 5 kg per person per month to around 82 crores of population.
  • One of the guiding principles of the Act is its life-cycle approach wherein special provisions have been made for pregnant women and lactating mothers and children in the age group of 6 months to 14 years.
  • Entitling them to receive nutritious meal free of cost through a widespread network of Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) centers, called Anganwadi Centers under ICDS scheme and also through schools under Mid-Day Meal (MDM) scheme. 
  • Pregnant women and lactating mothers are further entitled to receive cash maternity benefit of not less than Rs. 6,000 to partly compensate for the wage loss during the period of pregnancy and also to supplement nutrition.
  • Foodgrains under NFSA were to be made available at subsidized prices of Rs. 3/2/1 per kg for rice, wheat and coarse grains respectively.

Limitations of PDS:

  • Identification of beneficiaries - according to expert group, PDS suffers from nearly 61% error of exclusion and 25% inclusion of beneficiaries.
  • Urban bias-mostly limited to urban areas though rural expansion is also increasing.
  • The burden of subsidy- due to rise in procurement price and issue price getting lower.
  • Loss of food grains- according to planning commission around 36% leakage of PDS rice ,wheat at all India level.
  • PDS result in price increase-due to larger procurement net quantities available in market is less results in increase in price.
  • Inefficiencies in the operations of FCI- audit by CAG revealed a serious shortfall in the government's storage capacity.
  • Larger procurement due to MSP has put lot of pressure on FCI godowns.
  • Aadhar validation issues- such as biometric, spelling on aadhar leads to exclusion of real beneficiaries.
  • Challenges in delivery mechanisms: -such as card issues, quantity and quality issue, measurements issue and record maintenance.

Recent PDS reform

  • Digitization of ration cards- allows online entry and verification of beneficiary data. Online storing of monthly entitlement of beneficiaries, no of dependents etc.
  • Linking with Aadhar - 56% of the digitised cards have been seeded with unique identification no of AAadhar.
  • Computerization of FPS allocation - this makes declaration of stock balance, issuance of web-based truck challans etc very convenient.
  • ePOSC- electronic point of sale - devices at shop to track sale of foodgrains to actual cardholders on real time basis.
  • GPS (Global positioning system)- state like Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh uses GPS tech to track movements of trucks.
  • DBT- three UT - Chandigarh, Puducherry and Dadra Nagar Haveli implemented DBT on pilot basis.


One nation one ration card (ONORC)

  • The ONORC scheme is being implemented by the Department for the nation-wide portability of ration cards under National Food Security Act (NFSA). Through this all-eligible ration card holders/beneficiaries covered under NFSA can access their entitlements from anywhere in the country.
  • The Partha Mukhopadhyay working group on migration recommended for portability of public distribution system and its benefits in 2017.
  • Later, govt launched Integrated Management of Public Distribution system in April 2018.
  • Benefits - The new system will identify beneficiaries through biometric authentication on electronic point of sale (ePos) devices installed at FPS.
  • Under this migrant will be allowed to buy maximum of 50% of family quota.
  • Inter-state as well as intra state portability of ration cards.
  • Inter-state portability at IMPDS portal.
  • Intra state Annavitran portal -to display electronic transaction made through ePos for distribution of subsidized foodgrains to beneficiaries.
  • Can control food subsidy bill by preventing leakages.
  • Removes bogus ration card holders through integrated online system.

Challenges in implementing one ration card:

  • Technological
  • Aadhar authentication - only 85.41% of ration cards linked with Aadhar but still there is a gap.
  • Internet connectivity - specially in remote areas prove to be hurdle.          
  • ePOS - out of 79,050 only 37,392 FPS have ePos machines and it is further low in west Bengal and Bihar.  
  • Huge gap in data on migration - unplanned distressed migration and lack of proper mechanism to keep the record of patterns of migration.
  • Federal relations - engagement of central and state government on the implementation may pose challenges of encroachment in each other's area.
  • Disincentivizing state govt to provide the additional benefits to their population in terms of nutritional requirements.

Way forward

  • Providing nutritional security - along with food security a broader perspective of nutritional security should also be considered.
  • Integration of schemes - PDS can be integrated with mid-day meal. ICDS, immunization under one nation one ration cards.
  • Use of technology - to handle operations such as Bharat net, separate AI platform.
  • Constant monitoring - with the help of village panchayat and social auditing to decrease exclusion error.
  • Alternative delivery mechanism - if emergencies appeared to hamper ration shops alternative delivery mechanism can be considered.
  • Idea of food coupon - instead of ration card, food coupon can be solutions in longer term.

As ONORC have many challenges for its implementation but still india with larger migration and vulnerable section have potential to achieve the sustainable development goal 2 i,e. Zero hunger by 2030.