Expanding Public Distribution System (PDS) coverage

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    In News 

    Critics of the  Public Distribution System (PDS) appreciated its services during the COVID-19 lockdown.

    About Public Distribution System (PDS)

    • It evolved as a system of management of scarcity through the distribution of food grains at affordable prices. 
    • Over the years, PDS has become an important part of the Government’s policy for the management of the food economy in the country. 
    • It is supplemental in nature and is not intended to make available the entire requirement of any of the commodities distributed under it to a household or a section of society.
    • Operation: PDS is operated under the joint responsibility of the Central and the State/UT Governments. The Central Government, through the Food Corporation of India (FCI), has assumed the responsibility for the procurement, storage, transportation, and bulk allocation of food grains to the State Governments. 
    • Coverage: PDS coverage is determined by Section 3(2) of the NFSA 2013. 
      • It states that the entitlements of eligible households “shall extend up to seventy-five percent of the rural population and up to fifty percent. of the urban population.” 
      • Section 9 of NFSA required that the total number of persons to be covered “shall be calculated on the basis of the population estimates as per the census of which the relevant figures have been published.”
    • The National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013, through the Public Distribution System (PDS), provides a crucial safety net for roughly 800 million people.

    Exiting Issues 

    • Diversion of food grains and other chronic problems still exist
    • The humanitarian crisis resulting from the COVID-19 lockdown made it apparent that too many were still excluded from the PDS. 
    • In response to the humanitarian crisis, the Government made one sensible policy decision swiftly. It doubled the entitlements of the 800 million who were already covered by the PDS . 
      • But that does nothing for those without ration cards.
    • There is no attempt at understanding or addressing the hardships of people who are deprived of the food security net that the PDS provides.
    •  the Government attempts repeatedly to shift the blame to State governments.
    • There have been several independent reports warning about the rising economic inequality in India.
    • the Court had already taken into account the delayed Census 
    • There was no direction from the Court to change coverage ratios (of 50% in urban and 75% in rural areas)

    Supreme Court’s Interventions 

    • In July 2022, the Supreme Court of India agreed that the prayer to increase coverage “seems to be genuine and justified”. 
    • It directed the Union of India to “come out with a formula and/or appropriate policy/scheme, if any, so that the benefits under NFSA are not restricted as per the census of 2011 and more and more needy persons/citizens get the benefit under the National Food Security Act”.
    • Going further, the Court said that the Government could consider a “projection of population increase” to resolve this issue.

    Government’s initiatives

    • For 2022-23, the Centre has allocated Rs 2.06 lakh crore for food subsidy. 
      • This is 97% of the budget for the Department of Food and Public Distribution, which is in charge of the PDS
    • The food security response of the government through Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) combined with One Nation One Ration Card (ONORC) during COVID-19 pandemic served as a lifeline for the people and is being hailed globally as a shining example for its efficiency and sensitivity towards poor and vulnerable sections of the society

    Suggestions 

    • Any sensible policy should have an in-built mechanism for updating coverage annually to account for population increase. 
    • Robust procurement trends and a comfortable food stocks position are what make an expansion affordable. 
    • Adjusting for population increase, as directed by the Supreme Court, will increase coverage by roughly 10% (from 800 million to 900 million).
    • he Supreme Court should be firm, directing the Government to get on with apportioning the additional coverage of roughly 100 million across States, so that the States can start identifying new ration card beneficiaries. 
    •  A revamped, need-based PDS is required not just for cutting down the subsidy bill but also for reducing the scope for leakages. 
    • Political will should not be found wanting.

    Mains Practice Question 

    [Q] Do you think that it is time for the government of India to relook at the overall Public Distribution System (PDS)?