Q) The Public Distribution System (PDS) is a crucial resource for the food security of the poor people in India yet some chronic problems continue to exist. Discuss. 

Why this Question:

Important part of GS paper-II and III.

Key Demand of the Question:

Significance of the PDS, concerns regarding it and measures to reform the system.


Discuss- back up the answer by carefully selected evidence to make a case for and against an argument, or point out the advantages and disadvantages of the given context and finally arrive at a conclusion.


Give an introduction about the Public Distribution System in India. 


In the first part, highlight the need and significance of the PDS.

In the next part, highlight the concerns associated with it. Also mention measures to reform it.


Summarise your whole argument. 

Model Answer

The Public Distribution System (PDS) is a food security system established under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food, and Public Distribution. It evolved as a system of management of scarcity through distribution of food grains at affordable prices. Under it the beneficiaries are given essential commodities like wheat, rice, sugar and kerosene at a subsidized rate. It was reformed in 1992 and presented as the Revamped PDS to reach the far flung areas and in 1997 as the Targeted PDS to focus on the poor. The foodgrains procured under the PDS are done at the Minimum Support Price (MSP) and stored in buffer stocks. 

Need and Significance of PDS

  1. It helps in ensuring Food and Nutritional Security of the nation.
  2. It has helped in stabilising food prices and making food available to the poor at affordable prices.
  3. It maintains the buffer stock of food grains in the warehouse so that the flow of food remains active even during the period of less agricultural food production.
  4. It has helped in redistribution of grains by supplying food from surplus regions of the country to deficient regions.
  5. The system of minimum support price and procurement has contributed to the increase in food grain production.

Why does the system need a Reform 

  1. The fundamental problem with the targeted PDS is “leakages riddled with corruption”. The cost of leakages added with the administrative costs comes to around 40 to 55%.
  2. Exclusion: some poor people do not have access to rush ration cards all subsidised food due to which there is starvation and remote and tribal areas of the country.
  3. Open-ended Procurement i.e., all incoming grains accepted even if buffer stock is filled, creates a shortage in the open market.
  4. A performance audit by the CAG has revealed a serious shortfall in the government’s storage capacity. The increasing procurement and incidents of rotting food grains, the lack of adequate covered storage is a cause for concern.
  5. The provision of MSP has encouraged farmers to divert land from production of coarse grains that are consumed by the poor, to rice and wheat and thus, discourages crop diversification.
  6. The over-emphasis on attaining self-sufficiency and a surplus in food grains, which are water-intensive, has been found to be environmentally unsustainable.

 Reforms Needed

  1. For all ration cardholders drawing food grains, a “give up” option, as done in the case of cooking gas cylinders, can be made available to reduce the bill of food subsidies. 
  2. The existing arrangement of flat rates should be replaced with a slab system. Barring the needy, other beneficiaries can be made to pay a little more for a higher quantum of foodgrains.
  3. The rates at which these beneficiaries have to be charged

can be arrived at by the Centre and the States through consultations.

  1. Its effectiveness can be enhanced with technology based solutions as is evident from some of the states’ successes towards the same.
  2. Strengthening of the existing TPDS system by capacity building and training of the implementing authorities.
  3. Increase in public participation through social audits, participation of SHGs, Cooperatives and NGOs to ensure transparency of the system at ground level.
  4. To enhance the nutritional content, distribution of bio fortified foods can be considered as an option.

The Public Distribution System contributes significantly in the provision of food security. Hence, minimizing the above concerns can lead to enhanced food and nutritional security in India and hell in tackling growing hunger and malnutrition in the country.