My first experience of going to a Government ‘fair price
shop’ was about ten to twelve years back when my maid’s son was asked to get some rockel (Marathi for kerosene) for her gas burner. I had to accompany him till the shop and get him back safe and sound. I was caught unawares by the yellow cover of the ration card he held as my house had one with an orange cover. That card was used only as an identity proof and never for the purpose it was made for, like the driving license for my Mother. My Father, later in the day, settled my inquisitiveness by explaining the BPL ration card concept. I could now connect to what was taught to me at school about the PDS.
As soon as we think about PDS, the first thing that comes to mind is the success story of the Tamil Nadu universal PDS system. Even though the center allotted 2,96,000 tonnes to the state, Tamil Nadu distributed 3,17,000 tonnes of grains per month at Rs. 2 per kg. The cost of procuring these grains from the center was Rs. 5.65 per kg in 2010. In the following years, they also had GPS enabled trucks for distribution and GPRS enabled billing systems in order to avoid misuse of all resources and infrastructure involved in PDS.
Except for Tamil Nadu, we do not know of any other state success story. PDS has led to creation of secondary markets. This, giving an opportunity to the poorest of the poor to make money by selling off grains at any price lower than the market price, is not fulfilling the purpose of the system. As the poverty line is determined by the calorie intake, where an average urban dweller needs to consume 2100 calories per day and the average rural dweller, 2400, you never know if they are actually consuming so much. The Government should do a lot more than just ensuring cheap grains and pulses. It should ensure nutrition.
The employers, both permanent and temporary play a huge role in my idea. As my friend Shubham Gupta correctly pointed out, people living below the poverty line are contract labourers who have transient jobs. My argument was, if food can attract children to school, it should attract adults to their workplace. The average wages of labourers be reduced by the average expenditure on food, and food with sufficient calories be provided by the employer. However, preparing the food should be taken up by the Government and NGOs, like the mid day meal programme. The current ration shop network infrastructure should be used for this purpose.
This has various benefits. The onus of cooking food no more remains on the housewife as she will be encouraged to work and earn extra income for the house. And all around, it will lead to more job creation, by people cooking and distributing food. The Government this way ensures that the daily nutrition intake, or atleast, a substantial part of it is ensured. And according to me, this is the current way to go. To ensure nutrition distribution and not just distribution of grains and pulses. It is high time that the government subsidies start affecting human well being directly.