a-time-to-universalize-pds

Context: The Public Distribution System has played an important role in providing relief to people in the aftermath of the national lockdown.

Existing scenario of food security in India:

  • With COVID-19 cases increasing and the economy continuing to be in a downturn, some corrective measures need to be put in place to ensure that there are no exclusions and that this basic support of subsidised foodgrains reaches everybody preventing large-scale hunger and starvation.
  • Despite gaps, the PDS is one of the most effective instruments to reach people in the current situation. 
  • The COVID-19 survey conducted by the Azim Premji University found that during the lockdown, 89 per cent of rural and 69 per cent of urban respondents reported that they were able to get foodgrains from a government ration shop compared to only 30 percent of households saying that they received the Jan Dhan transfer.
  • Under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), about 60 per cent of the current population has priority ration cards while some states such as Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have additional coverage which they support through their own budgets.
  • Providing an additional 5 kg of foodgrains and 1 kg of pulses for free under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PM-GKAY) was only for the 81 crore individuals who are currently covered by the NFSA, and later as part of the Atmanirbhar package, another 8 crore migrants have been included. 
  • However, there are still many who are left out of the food security net. 
  • Economic Survey 2019-20: It called for a massive downsizing of the PDS and a shift to cash transfers in place of foodgrains. 
    • To contain the fiscal deficit that the government is reluctant to expand the PDS despite burgeoning stocks.

Improving the food security

  • Use latest population estimates:
    • To fulfil the NFSA requirement of 67 per cent, the updated population estimates of 2020 must be used in place of the current 2011 numbers. 
    • Moreover, in the present crisis where many have lost their livelihoods, the requirement would be much more. 
  • Make PDS universal: There is no announcement of extending the relief measures from July onwards, ignoring the continuing despair in rural and urban areas.

Issues with Cash transfer:

  • Inadequate amount: Cash transfers are an important form of welfare provision, especially through schemes such as old age, widow and disability pensions and maternity entitlements. However, the amounts given under these transfers are woefully inadequate.
  • The FCI finances are in a mess with an outstanding loan of over Rs 2.5 lakh crore from the National Small Savings Fund (NSSF). But this is entirely a result of mismanagement and off-budget accounting by the government to show a lower fiscal deficit.
    • A perusal of the data shows that the actual food subsidy and the NSSF loan combined still accounts for less than 1 percent of the GDP per annum. 
    • Excluding the off-budget borrowings, the food subsidy in the last three years is between 0.53 and 0.59 percent of GDP, much less than what it was in the years preceding NFSA when it was between 0.8-0.85 per cent.
  • Cash transfers cannot be a substitute for the provision of subsidised foodgrains: There are a higher number of fair price shops than bank branches and although most people now have a bank account, many of these accounts are dormant and the transaction costs of withdrawing the cash are high. 
  • If cash transfer is not inflation-indexed then,  their real value will keep decreasing, which is not the case with food transfers. 
  • No distribution mechanism in place:The amount of foodgrains procured will also be reduced, which would mean that fewer farmers would be able to access minimum support prices.

NFSA,2013

About 

  • National Food Security Act, 2013 came into being with the objective to provide for food and nutritional security in human life cycle approach, by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices to people to live a life with dignity.
  • It converts entitlements of existing food security programmes of the Central Government including the Midday Meal Scheme, Integrated Child development scheme and PDS into legal entitlements.

Coverage

  • The NFSA aims to provide subsidized food grains to approximately two thirds (67%) of the population (75% in rural areas and 50% in urban areas; 81.31 cr beneficiaries).

Women Empowerment

  • The head of every eligible household shall be a woman(18 years of age or above) for the purpose of issuance under this act.

Entitlements

  • Grains like wheat, rice and coarse grain will be distributed at the subsidized price of Rs. 3, Rs. 2 and Rs. 1 and uniform entitlement of 5 kg per person per month is provided.
  • Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) (poorest of the poor) households will be protected at 35 kg per household per month.

Nutritional support to Women and Children

  • Pregnant women and lactating mothers and children are entitled to get meals under the prescribed nutrition by MDM and ICDS.
  • Pregnant women and lactating mothers will be entitled to get maternity benefit of Rs.6000.
  • NFSA 2013 will provide high nutrition food to children from the age group of 6 months to 14 years.

Bodies under NFSA

  • Under NFSA, there is no provision for any Commission at the national level or District level. The Act provides for a State Food Commission (SFC) in every State/UT, for the purpose of monitoring and review of implementation of the Act.

A paradigm shift -Right based approach

  • The act also provides for the payment of food security allowance to entitled persons by State Government in case of non-supply of entitled quantities of foodgrains, within such time and manner as may be prescribed by the Central Government. Accordingly, the Government has notified the Food Security Allowance Rules, 2015.

Food Corporation of India

FCI was set up under the Food Corporations Act 1964, in order to fulfil following objectives of the Food Policy.

Objective

  • Effective price support operations for safeguarding the interests of the farmers.
  • Distribution of food grains throughout the country for the public distribution system.
  • Maintaining satisfactory level of operational and buffer stocks of food grains to ensure National Food Security.


Source: https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/india-coronavirus-lockdown-food-stock-supply-pds-scheme-6476514/

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