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Gujarat PDS an innovative example for nation to follow

Government of Gujarat’s Biometric Bar-coded ration Public Distribution System (PDS) Coupon system is an innovative model of service delivery that leverages Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to improve the accountability and transparency of the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) in the state to ensure the rightful cardholders get the ration and minimise leakages.

Less than two years back, the Supreme Court has lauded the model of computerised PDS implemented by state of Gujarat and directed the central government to ask all states and union territories to implement the same.

The apex court’s direction was based on the recommendations of a committee headed by Justice D P Wadhwa, a former judge of the Supreme Court. It was noted that Gujarat’s PDS is a model in electronic authentication of delivery and payments at the fair price shop. Even the United Nations World Food Programme has noted the success of Gujarat’s targeted PDS reforms model. It should be noted that the Gujarat’s TPDS reform model has been fully funded by the state government and has been one of the most cost effective projects.

The Gujarat state government has also taken an initiative for solving the problems of migrating families by permitting temporary extension of the validity of the ration cards to any Fair Price Shop (FPS) in the destination of his choice. Another reason for the success of Gujarat’s TPDS reforms has been the elimination of bogus cards. Along with that the state has achieved the auto nomination of TPDS, which has improved the response time of TPDS administration and curbed corruption, if any.

Under the current system of PDS, the government of India allocates food grains for 21.2 lakhs Below Poverty Line (BPL)/Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) families only. Although the Gujarat government has identified about 32 lakhs BPL/AAY families and has repeatedly requested government of India to enhance allocation of BPL food grain, unfortunately the government of India has not acted upon such request of the state government. Consequently, the state government, in the interest of the BPL families, had no option but to divert part of Above Poverty Line (APL) allocation and this was endorsed by the government of India. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has written to the prime minister on the shortcomings of the National Food Security Ordinance (NFSO) and urged him to convene a meeting of all chief ministers to deliberate on the provisions for better implementation of the same.

As it may be known to all that the state governments are required to implement the programme, it is more appropriate to weed out certain issues likely to pose practical hindrances to its implementation. The Gujarat Chief Minister has raised pertinent issues for the benefit of all the targeted beneficiaries, even whose number is fixed by the Union government without consulting the states. Even, for the Implementation of the National Food Security Ordinance, the number of the beneficiaries have been fixed by the Centre and the states are left to identify those many beneficiaries, which itself is exclusionary. As per the NFSO, the entitlement of BPL families has been reduced from 35 kg per family to only 25 kg per month to an average family of five persons. Reducing food entitlement to poorest of the poor cannot be the objective of any food security legislation. In fact, it is a cruel joke with the poor of this country.

They have been promised food security and assured supply of 35 kg of food grain has been reduced to 25 kg. The distribution of 5 kg food grains per month per person implies the supply of only 165 gm per person per day. Individuals involved in labour intensive activities require at least 2,500 calories per day. The entitled 165 gm grains would provide only 500 calories per day which is hardly 20 per cent of one’s daily calorie requirements. Even in the Mid Day Meal (MDM) scheme, school going children are entitled to about 180 gm of food grain. As against this, an ‘adult food insecure person’ is proposed to be given only 165 gm for two meals per day. This does not address even the ‘calorific security’, not to talk about ‘nutritional security’, which is the main objective of food security. Further, the Centre has refused to take any responsibility to ensure supply of the required quantity of food grains. Instead, this responsibility has been cast upon the respective state governments to fulfill the shortage of food grains. If there is drought and/ or states which are food grain deficit, state governments will find itself in a very difficult situation to manage/procure the food grains. The central government with huge wherewithal could have taken this responsibility to make available the food grain during drought/ scarcity. These deficiencies pointed out by the Gujarat chief minister, which if taken in positive spirit would have made the ‘Right to Food’ a proper and appropriate legislation in letter and spirit.

 
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