The Narendra Modi-led NDA government has been pushing for reforms in the Public Distribution System (PDS) in the last three years, but the progress so far has been uneven. Minister for food and consumer affairs Ram Vilas Paswan spoke to Sandip Das on the issues relating to the implementation of the National Food Security Act (NFSA) and the several steps are taken to curb pilferage of PDS foodgrain.
What have been your key achievements during the last three years in terms of carrying out PDS reforms?
Since the NDA government came to power three years ago, we have been insisting that states and Union Territories (UTs) roll out the National Food Security Act and carry out reforms in PDS. However, there were delays on part of the states and all the 36 states/UTs rolled out the food security legislation only a few months ago. Many states have been implementing the NFSA as if it’s their own scheme, while the Centre provides huge funds for its implementation. Recently, we asked the PDS outlets in states to display the amount of subsidy incurred for procurement, storage and distribution of wheat and rice.
With the exception of a few states, most states don’t give additional subsidies over and above the Centre which provides for the subsidised price of rice (Rs 3 per kg) and wheat (Rs 2 per kg) supplied under NFSA. We have covered more than 80.5-crore population under NFSA so far. However, the pace of installation of electronic point of sale (ePoS) machines at fair price shops (FPSs) has been rather slow. Out of the total 5.2 lakh FPSs in the country, around two lakh FPSs (38%) have ePoS enabled. Most of the ePoS-enabled PDS outlets are in Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Telangana.
You have often said states are not acknowledging the contribution of the Centre towards implementation of food security legislation. What would be your suggestion to the states?
As the government is spending a huge amount of money under food subsidy (Rs 1.45 lakh crore for FY18), our sole focus is on ensuring that highly subsidised foodgrain reach the deserving people. The Centre incurs a subsidy of Rs 21.09 per kg in case of wheat and Rs 29.64 per kg for rice which is reflected in the food subsidy budget approved by the finance ministry. The states must provide additional subsidy or benefits to beneficiaries under the food security legislation.
With the exception of Bihar and some of the North-Eastern states, most states have carried out Aadhaar seeding of ration cards which has eliminated a large number of bogus cards from NFSA beneficiaries’ list. Why is Bihar, which has a large number of poor families, so slow in implementing reforms in PDS?
Due to various reforms initiated such as digitalisation and Aadhaar seeding of ration cards, we have eliminated 2.33 crore ‘bogus’ ration cards during 2013-2016. Bihar is yet to give us the names of at least 10-15 lakh beneficiaries under NFSA. The state government picks all the grain stocks allocated to Bihar, yet we get several complaints of the poor not getting rice and wheat under NFSA. Bihar has completed seeding of 55% of its 1.54 crore ration cards while 8.5 crore people are entitled to get highly subsidised foodgrain as per NFSA.
Through seeding of ration cards, we would stop people from picking up ration from multiple locations under one name. It will stop diversion of foodgrain. Pan-India seeding of ration cards with Aadhaar has been close to 78%. The direct benefit transfer (DBT) in PDS has not seen much progress. What are the reasons behind the states’ reluctance to implement DBT in PDS?
In the last two years, DBT in PDS is being implemented on a pilot basis in Chandigarh, Puducherry and urban areas of Dadra and Nagar Haveli. However, the states have been slow and reluctant in implementing DBT. We have requested states to carry out DBT pilots in at least one district to understand the implications. We need to push the states to implement DBT in urban centres as per recommendations of a high-level committee chaired by former food minister Shanta Kumar.