PDS inefficiency plagues poverty maths

Amidst claims by govt on poverty reduction, comes the disclosure that food grain allocation under TPDS has grown manifold over the last 3 years.

Rashi Aditi Ghosh / Zee Research Group

India’s poverty math is getting complex by the day. Amidst claims by the government on poverty reduction, comes the startling disclosure that the food grain allocation under the Targeted Public Distribution Scheme (TPDS) has grown manifold over the last three years. But ironically consumption is not keeping pace with the allocations raising fresh questions over the efficacy of the flagship pro poor scheme.

While the UN Human Development Report (UNHDR) quoting government statistics claims that the multidimensional poverty index fell to 0.283 percent from 0.296 percent during 2009-2010, the Consumer Affairs Ministry data showed that the food grain allocation increased from 27601million tons in 2008-09 to 27608 million tons in 2009-10. The figure rose to 27677 million tons during 2010-11 (until June 2011).

As against the allocations, the consumption pattern shows a distinct negative trend. The consumption during 2008-09 stood at 25180.42 tons and 26339.782 tons during 2009-10 and 27104.327 tons during 2010-11 (until June 2011).

The consumption to allocation deficit has huge bearing on the poverty reduction policy framework. Prof R Radhakrishna, part of the expert group to review the methodology for estimation of poor at Planning Commission (November 2009), has an explanation for this gap. “Food grain consumption by BPL populace in India is lesser as against the allocation because in reality the grains allocated to the deserving ones are not reaching them due to negligence and deficiency within the governance.”

There might be other reasons too though inefficiency is the common thread. Amar Jyoti Nayak, food and livelihood rights leader at Action Aid India, argued, “The consumption is often less than allocation due to the lack of proper PDS centres, lack of purchasing power with the poor and most importantly unaccountable PDS. In states where the government has made PDS more accessible and accountable, the off-take is better.”

The leakage points to fundamental systemic errors in management of the food grains under the scheme are evident in government’s own efforts to track down the bogus cards active in the system.

An evaluation conducted by Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) under the Consumer Affairs ministry revealed that the number of bogus ration cards issued to BPL families increased from 16.3 lakh in 2008-2009 to 30.5 lakh cards in 2009-2010. The operational responsibility of TPDS includes identification of families below the poverty line and issuing of ration cards. The ministry, however, has no estimate on the actual size of bogus cards in the system.

“Bogus entries are a result of benefits in the form of subsidies and it is clear that mismanagement starts from the grass root level itself due to higher involvement of corrupt politics and politicians,” lamented Prof Radhakrishna.

The criteria for entitlement to the food grain scheme too have come under fire. According to Nayak, “Action Aid had conducted a Participatory Socio-Economic Study (PSES) in 125 villages in 18 states and found that more than 70% of the families fall in extremely poor and poor category. The PSES study while compared with the BPL census conducted in 14 districts and urban areas of 4 districts in the State of Uttar Pradesh using the Socio-Economic and Caste Census methodology( SECC) -2011, found that only 1.1% families could be included in BPL list. This clearly establishes the flaw in the assessment of BPL families through the present SECC 2011.”

But there is a contrarian view on the consumption versus allocation argument, which suggests that the TPDS scheme itself is not measure enough of the poverty indices in the country. Suranjan Sengupta, another member of the expert group to review the methodology for estimation of poor at Planning Commission says, “Food grain consumption under TPDS is one of the major parameters but we cannot count it as the only parameter to judge the poverty line in India.”

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