Dark clouds over the PDS-Mains-2016 (The Hindu Crux)(GS-03)

  • India’s Public Distribution System (PDS) has improved steadily during the last 10 years.
  • The system used to be most ineffective and corruption-ridden, with leakages of around 50 per cent at the national level, going up to 80 or 90 per cent in some States.

The ‘Chhattisgarh model’ 

What is Chhattisgarh-style PDS reforms:

  • Broad coverage, clear entitlements, de-privatisation of PDS shops, separation of transport agencies from distribution agencies, computerisation, fixed distribution schedules, tight monitoring, active grievance redressal, and more.

What is NFSA?

  • The National Food Security Act (NFSA), enacted three years ago, was — and still is — a chance to complete the process of PDS reform and ensure a modicum of food security for everyone.
  • Under the NFSA, the APL category is abolished and eligible households come under two well-defined categories: priority households, entitled to 5 kg of foodgrains per person per month at nominal prices, and Antyodaya households (the poorest), entitled to 35 kg per household per month.
  • The PDS is to cover at least 75 per cent of rural households at the national level, rising to 80-90 per cent in the poorest States.

Use of PoS Machines at PDS Shops:

  • However, recent progress is in danger of being undone soon due to the Central government’s counter-productive push for Aadhaar-based biometric authentication in the PDS.
  • This involves installing “Point of Sale” (PoS) machines at PDS shops, and verifying the identity of cardholders by matching their fingerprints against the Aadhaar database over the Internet.
  • How to succeed Aadhar based biometric at PDS Shops?:
  • Requirement of multiple fragile technologies to work at the same time:
  • the PoS machine, the biometrics, the Internet connection, remote servers, and often other elements such as the local mobile network.
  • Further, it requires at least some household members to have an Aadhaar number, correctly seeded in the PDS database.

State Example using PoS Machines:

  • Some of the State like Rajasthan & Ranchi district of Jharkhand have made it compulsory for the use of PoS machines but not achieved 100% success for the allocation of foodgrains because some PDS grain goes partly through the PoS system and partly through the fallback register system, which is the worst.

Reason is that

  • Only PDS dealers know whether and when the register system is permissible, and they have no incentive to share that information with the cardholders.
  • Quite likely, the new system is reviving PDS corruption in Jharkhand, reversing a healthy trend towards lower leakages in recent years.

Reason for failure of PoS Machine at the PDS Shops:

  • No Aadhaar number; or
  • Aadhaar number had not been correctly seeded; or
  • Biometrics did not work, or
  • Simply the PoS machine returned various error messages.

The Aadhaar juggernaut

  • The Central government continues to push for compulsory Aadhaar-based biometric authentication in the PDS.
  • Incidentally, this is a violation of Supreme Court orders.
  • The court did allow the use of Aadhaar in the PDS, but not making it compulsory for PDS users.

Why PoS Machines?

  • It seem to be expected to ensure a corruption-free PDS.

Why it fails?

  • Because it only entails about identity fraud (e.g. bogus cards), but not quantity fraud:
  • PDS dealers often give people less than what they are entitled to, and pocket the rest.
  • PoS machines are ineffective in preventing quantity fraud.
  • They may help in reducing identity fraud, such as it is, but that does not justify depriving people of their food entitlements when the technology fails.

What to do then?

  • The Central government must peddles bogus figures of Aadhaar-enabled financial savings to justify further imposition of the technology.
  • There are better ways of plugging last-mile leakages, including the use of simpler technologies not dependent on the Internet.

Leave a Reply