Friday, April 13, 2012


That the PDS system which is supposed to serve millions of impoverished Indian population is in total shambles is well known with massive pilferage being the hall mark of the program. The only point on which there is difference of opinion among impartial observers concerns the percentage of intended beneficiaries who get the real benefit, the estimates varying from 40% to 65%! In spite of the criminalization of PDS, country's GDP seems to be registering amazing growth with people to day having more money in their hands like never before. If the latest revelation that PDS grains are used by many families to raise Chickens and other domesticated food yielding animals is true, Government needs to rethink the strategy as to whether the PDS is really serving the purpose for which it was created. Probably those who receive the PDS grains find it hard to consume them because of extremely low quality and hence are feeding the same to raise meat, egg and milk! The brand new Food Security Bill further seeks to raise the subsidy and provide these grains at practically throw away prices of Rs 1-3 per kg! These reckless policies, with a hidden agenda of cornering vote banks, especially in rural areas, can only lead to more starvation, under nourishment, malnutrition and bankruptcy of the economy in the long run. 

Padmini, a native of Chertala Taluk in Kerala says that she gets more than enough foodgrains to feed her family at subsidised rates of Re 1 to 2 per kg. So she sees no harm in feeding the excess grain to household chicken and ducks. After all, eggs, chicken and duck fetch substantially higher value at the market. Moreover, it would be far more expensive to buy rice-brawn and coarse cereals which were fed to the poultry earlier. While the political masters are deliberating the prudency and expediency of the newly revised poverty line, millions like Padmini have no doubt crossed the invisible line which divides the poor from the rich in India. Suffice to say that it has been a feat without parallel in Indian economic history. A feat, more remarkable than India's tryst with liberalisation programmes. Despite all the success stories about India's green revolution and self sufficiency in food grain production, per capita availability of cereals stagnated around the 400 gram mark during the past 50 years. Productivity had marched ahead. Food grain production had tripled. But for occasional vagaries of weather and wild swings in production there was nothing substantially wrong with India's food production. The visible signs of prosperity both in India's rural heartland and urban sprawls are real. These signs meant that India's poor were consuming more. Per capita food grain availability should have zoomed. But that has not been the case.

According to recent reports, country's food production is expected to be unusually high and if procurement prices are right there could be a large inflow into the granaries of the government. With the storage capacity in the country being limited a substantial portion of the procured grains will have to be kept under CAP system of open storage which will further aggravate the quality problem already being experienced with PDS grains. If the cash distribution option being considered in lieu of food grains is implemented what will happen to the PDS is a million dollar question. A fundamental issue that is ignored by the policy makers is whether such free distribution of national wealth will not impact the human productivity in the country adversely as the need to work to get food is obviated by the government largess. Unless subsidized food is confined and restricted to those who are really poor by standard economic markers as assessed by scientific census there is no justification to waste national wealth so recklessly as being proposed.


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