Improving PDS critical to food security law, says food minister

Written by Sandip Das | New Delhi | Updated: Jul 15 2013, 09:24am hrs
A day after Congress president Sonia Gandhi asked the party-ruled states to implement national food security Bill in letter and spirit, food minister KV Thomas on Sunday said the biggest challenge is to improve the existing targeted public distribution system (TPDS) so that highly subsidised foodgrain reaches the masses.

The key challenge faced by the government is to improve the existing TPDS and we hope to do so during the next six months, Thomas told FE. He said computerisation and modernisation of the PDS is under works and is expected to reduce pilferage of foodgrain to a large extent.

Thomas said Food Corporation of India (FCI), which would play a key role in implementation of the food security law, has enough foodgrain stock in excess of 77 mt at present against an annual requirement of 62 mt under the food security law. He said that the food ministry is emphasising on reducing the pilferage and wastages in distribution of foodgrain.

Sonia Gandhi and PM Manmohan Singh on Saturday deliberated with 13 chief ministers of Congress-ruled states on how to implement the law that seeks to provide highly subsidised foodgrain to 82 crore citizens, for which an ordinance was promulgated last week.

Many Congress leaders were of the view that as long as PDS is not efficient, the food security law would not have impact on the ground.

Thomas said while the government will hold talks with the BJP-ruled states for the implementation of food security programme, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana are expected to launch it by next month. Karnataka and Kerala are expected to initiate work-relating implementation of the food bill shortly, he said.

The Planning Commission estimate on below poverty line (BPL) families is to be released shortly and the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) is expected to completed by September, he noted.

The SECC, conducted through the rural development ministry, will rank households based on their socio-economic status to prepare a BPL list while gathering information on the caste-wise breakup of the population in the country and providing the socio-economic profile of various castes. The SECC, launched in June 2011, was initially supposed to be completed by December 2011 but the deadline was later informally shifted to June 2012.

States have six months to identify beneficiaries eligible for subsidised foodgrain, Thomas said.

The food security law guarantees 5 kg of rice, wheat and coarse cereals a month per person at a fixed price of R3, 2 and 1, respectively. However, about 2.43 crore of the poorest of the poor families covered under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana scheme under the existing TPDS will continue to get 35 kg of foodgrain per family per month, but with legal entitlement.