Dwarfing the governmentís oft-quoted estimate that 20-30% of subsidised grain disbursed to the poor is siphoned away, the farm ministryís Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) has now pegged the figure much higher at 40.5%. The CACP estimate exposes the dismal progress in improving the targeted public distribution system (TPDS) and puts a serious question mark on the governmentís ability to implement the food security law.
The CACP has estimated TPDS pilferage afresh by comparing the quantum of grains allocated to states with the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) data on poor familiesí grain consumption from the PDS basket in 2009.
In a report titled ĎRevamping agriculture and PDSí, CACP chairman Ashok Gulati said pilferage was the highest in Bihar (71%), West Bengal (69%), Assam (67%) and Rajasthan (67%).
As per government data, the average annual TPDS food grain off-take was the highest at 6.6 million tonnes in Uttar Pradesh last fiscal, while it was 3.4 mt in West Bengal and 2.8 mt in Bihar.
ďThe biggest challenge to the implementation of Food Security Act in a satisfactory manner would be curbing pilferage. In states like UP, Bihar and West Bengal with large chunks of people under the poverty line, leakages are huge,Ē Gulati told FE.
In the run-up to the implementation of the food security law, which is meant to cover 82 crore Indians, the government has made some attempts to improve the TPDS. Recently, food minister KV Thomas said in Parliament that the number of ration card holders have been reduced to 16 crore from some 22 crore in 2009 by weeding out bogus cards. The Aadhaar system and computerisation of over 5 lakh fair-price shops are expected to curb leakages.
The government claims that it would need only 62 mt of food grains (rice and wheat) to implement the food security law, as against an estimated 60 mt required for the existing TPDS (last fiscal, only 52 mt of TPDS grain was lifted by the states). This, it contends, would not need any major additional subsidy outgo Ė only Rs 10-15,000 crore over and above Rs 1 lakh crore annual food subsidy now.
The high incidence of pilferage could, however, prove the government managers wrong, as the new regime will be marked for the legal entitlement to heavily subsidised food grains for an estimated 67% of Indiaís population.
Pilferage is also high in Rajasthan (67%), Gujarat