The National Food Security Act’s pan-India implementation will face further delays as most large states where the number of public distribution system (PDS) beneficiaries are high have shown little improvement in their preparedness.
According to sources, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Odisha, together home to more than half of the scheme’s target population, have not yet put the list of beneficiaries online although some of these states claim the NFSA is already under implementation. All of these states are still grappling with end-to-end computerisation of the entire PDS delivery system, a prerequisite for rolling out the scheme.
The food security law, launched by the UPA government and which the Modi government has promised to retain, is meant to ensure supply of highly subsidised foodgrain to around 84 crore people in the country. The scheme was to be rolled out all over the country from July 2014, a year after the law was made, but has missed several deadlines.
Food minister Ram Vilas Paswan had earlier said the scheme, which is now being implemented in 11 states (including Union territories), will be extended to the entire country by April 4, 2015. Paswan told FE on Thursday: “We have now told states to put the beneficiary list online and complete end-to-end computerisation of TPDS latest by May 2015.”
Even states such as Bihar, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, which had claimed NFSA roll-out prior to last year’s Lok Sabha elections, have since developed cold feet. Bihar, which claims to have been supplying subsidised foodgrain under NFSA to 7.6 crore of the state’s total population of 10.3 crore for about a year, is yet to put the beneficiary names online for verification, evidence that pilferage was rampant in the last few months of the UPA government.
The Modi government has insisted on beneficiary list, curtailing supplies without target population being defined.
The food subsidy bill for 2014-15 was Rs 1.22 lakh crore (revised estimate) and the amount estimated for next year is Rs 1.24 lakh crore, which includes NFSA expenditure of Rs 64,919 crore.
As of now, only a few states and UTs — Delhi, Chandigarh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana — have completed the computerisation of the beneficiary list. “Since March 2014, no state has initiated rolling out NFSA,” an official said.
The high-level committee on Food Corporation of India’s recast, while recommending a re-look at NFSA, had said: “Given that leakages in the public distribution system range from 40% to 50%, and in some states go as high as 60 to 70%, the government should defer implementation of NFSA in states that have not done end-to-end computerisation; have not put the list of beneficiaries online for anyone to verify; and have not set up vigilance committees to check pilferage from PDS.”