Public Distribution System, generally known by its acronym PDS, has been the backbone of India's food security till a decade ago and was being grossly neglected while the GOI was engrossed in economic liberalization policies. There was a time not in the too distant past when most of the population had ration cards for drawing food grains and sugar at subsidized rates and the ration card doubled up as a family identity document acceptable for many official purposes. Over a period of time most of the card holders stopped patronizing the ration shops because of poor quality of grains sold by these outlets, most of them housed in dilapidated structures and managed by inefficient cooperatives or "not so honest" small scale traders. According to sociologists, more than 60% of PDS grains are siphoned off by unscrupulous pilferers with the blessings of corrupt politicians and petty bureaucrats. To day the system has degenerated into a "poverty eradication" tool for distributing food grains at ridiculously low prices of Rs 2-3/ kg to the so called "Below Poverty Line" population, with more that 70% of the country's citizens having no card at all. It is any body's guess as to what proportion ultimately reaches the intended beneficiaries.
"Computerisation of the entire network of targeted public distribution system (TPDS) operation is a must and should be completed in a time-bound manner," Pawar said speaking at a conference of food secretaries here. He said the government has already initiated the process of computerisation of PDS network up to the Food Corporation of India (FCI) delivery point. "It is essential that our efforts in this direction to be accelerated so as to cover the entire distribution chain from the procurement process and ending with retail distribution at fair price shop level," Pawar said while adding, states should also simultaneously take up such networking at their end. The minister said, use of technologies such as global positioning systems for tracking of movement of PDS commodities, bar-coded ration coupons, digitisation of ration card database and smart cards would also help in bring changes in the system and it need to be taken up. "The time has come to have a re-look at the way it has been functioning and introduce reforms so as to make our TPDS more efficient and responsive to the changing socio-economic milieu," Pawar said.
The Minister for Food and Agriculture is a busy senior politician with added responsibility of administering the International Cricket Council based in Dubai as its President and must be congratulated for his policy declaration which has far reaching implications. That he found sufficient time to "air" his thoughts is a good augury and if implemented as proposed by him, there is a distnict possibility that a substantial portion of the resources now being "looted" could be saved. But there are imponderable factors that can still thwart the scheme and the die-hard corrupt breed in India have their own way of circumventing any well laid out fool proof plans and hijack public money. Use of modern computer technology including bar coding, RFI Tagging, Global Positioning etc is well thought of to keep track of commodity storage, transportation and retail distribution net work. The desire to transform Ration Shops into modern type of retail stores is also welcome and if these modernization efforts succeed, covering the entire population, there could be no more need for a unique identification number for which GOI is spending a fortune.