Monday, April 23, 2012


Providing food for the poor who have no access to affordable food materials both for calorie as well as nutrient requirement is indeed a laudable mission and Government of India (GOI) must receive full kudos for conceiving the giant Public Distribution System (PDS) with good intentions. Unfortunately all good intentions do not get translated into reality and to day's condition of the PDS is best described as pathetic for which the same government is responsible. In stead of learning lessons from a program which has gone haywire, GOI seems to be trapped in the quagmire committing more mistakes, intentionally or otherwise, pushing the country deeper into economic bankruptcy  Many suggestions have been made from time to time by well meaning experts regarding the direction in which PDS must be "rerouted". However GOI seems to be obsessed with garnering votes through a scheme for supplying the food grains practically free which can only expand the "pilferage" of grains by the politician-mafia nexus that operates to day with total impunity! An alternate proposal put forward by some experts calls for a transparent distribution system through issuing coupons or so called food stamps with which beneficiaries can get their entitlement from any retailer nearby. Here is a take on this new option suggested by them.

"If the government has transferred responsibility to the private sector in education, a fortiori, it also ought to put its faith in the private food trade when it comes to food subsidy. Curiously, the Food Security Bill before Parliament is all about government bureaucracy and government departments, with implications of administrative expenses overshooting the operational expenses. To be sure, food coupons are not the panacea to the vexed problem of targeted subsidy, but it is infinitely better than a PDS system that leaks like a sieve. Warts and all, the coupon system at least ensures a minimal role for bureaucracy and completely does away with state procurement, besides doing away with the problem of food rotting in the open, exposed to the elements. If students can be redirected, as it were, to private schools, the poor should be called upon to go to a kirana store in the vicinity, armed with food coupons given by the government. In fact, the initiative on the education front needs to be emulated across sectors — food, health and defence personnel; kirana store has been used more in a metaphorical sense herein. The crippling burden on government hospitals can be managed to a great extent through health coupons a la an insurance policy that is the open sesame for entry into cleaner and more effective, albeit infinitely more expensive, private hospitals".

The massive annual subsidy estimated at 70-80 thousand crore rupees coming out of the national exchequer is nothing but a wastage of resources by this economically turbulent country and to think that most of it is going to line the pockets of politicians, bureaucrats and brokers is really disturbing to the conscience of every honest citizen. No one knows who really deserves food grains at low cost when the family income has increased very significantly, especially after the implementation of various schemes of the GOI to guarantee employment in rural areas. Almost all urban families are well off compared to their counterparts in rural areas with relatively moderate income and why they should receive subsidies is baffling. With real and reliable economic statistics not available, it is time that a more precise and dependable method is evolved to identify families who are really poor and restrict the subsidies only to them through efficient and strict management system. Probably only a fraction of the number that receives subsidy may be eligible if the truth is brought out. Food coupons must be tried out at least on a limited scale to test its effectiveness in checking massive pilferage taking place at present.

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