India, a country of 1.2 billion population and with vast number of families, around 8.32 crore, lies below poverty line. This necessitated the government to design a policy, known as public distribution system established under Ministry of Consumer Affairs in 1965, to support these poor families with basic means of livelihood. Since then various measures were adopted to streamline and better implement this system. In June 1997, the Government of India launched the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) in which States are accountable to identify poor and make arrangements for delivery of food grains in a transparent manner.
In the Budget 2011, UPA government has proposed to introduce ‘cash for food’ under PDS by which government will distribute paper money instead of food. Various critics have opposed this scheme by citing various reasons like this would not take into account the food inflation, money would be utilized for some other purpose instead of food like repaying debt, leaving the poor in vagaries of supply of food in open market , ignoring the basic issue of food security.
Cash for food scheme also brings various benefits along with that. Food rationing involves distribution of food through channels like ration shops. Small delay on part of poor to reach shops would result in returning empty handed, quality of food grains is variable, and often the promised food quota is not available also the callous and unresponsive behavior of officials lead the poor into a miserable state. Thus cash for food scheme would eliminate the middle man thus directly the cash would be given to poor. It is also seen that food grain rationing involves leakages. According to the he economic survey, using National Sample Survey (NSS) data, it is said that the leakages have gone up to the extent of 40-50% in PDS. Thus the cash for food scheme is expected to remove all these issues.
PDS needs reform is not in doubt but it is also essential to identify the real problem and then finding the solution on the basis of that. The real menace is not with the quality of service but identifying the true beneficiaries and accessibility of large number of poor to PDS. Data suggests that there has been only marginal increment to the access of foodgrains for the bottom half of the economic hierarchy i.e. from 28% in 1993-94 to 30% in 2004-05. Also the average consumption of food grain from PDS failed to improve between 1993-94 and 2004-05.
According the definition of ‘poverty line’ given by the government only 65 million families are Below the Poverty Line (BPL) families in 2000 and maintains that only 27.5 % of the population is under BPL there are indicators which suggests that access to food is a problem for the larger section of the society. It is estimated that in 2005-06, 47.9% of children between the age group of 0-5 years were found to be stunted in their growth, while 43.5% were found to be underweight relative to WHO standards.
Therefore although the cash for food addresses a part of the problem of PDS but still it doesn’t takes into the account accessibility to all the poor in the country. The solution lies in identifying the poor by door-to door survey and include them to participate in, rationing delivering of cash to the end customer and more participation of poor will lead to a increased competition and thus delivering of better service to the poor.