Indian Public Distribution System : The Lifeline Operations

Posted in Operations & IT Articles, Total Reads: 9380 , Published on 06 March 2011

India, with a population of over one billion is the world's largest democracy. Despite a steady progress in the field of science, technology, defense, trade etc in such a huge nation, there are bound to be problems. Some critical issues and problems which are faced by a massive country like India are unemployment, ill-literacy, poverty etc. In India, an estimated 400 million people are below poverty line (BPL), and mal-nutrition and hunger is a major issue. Around 30% or around 330 million people in India face a problem of malnutrition. This is where the role of the government to provide a solution to such a huge problem arises and it’s their responsibility to work for improving the conditions of their citizens. In India, a massive operational exercise is carried out to ensure hygienic food is provided to the needy people, and this tremendous process is known as the Public Distribution System (PDS).

Public Distribution System

PDS is a government scheme which aims at providing basic hygienic food and nutrition to the poor people, who cannot afford to purchase food at normal retail rates. Through the PDS, poor people have an access to four basic food and commodities namely wheat, rice, sugar and kerosene at concessional and affordable rates, which are available at fair price shops (FPS). PDS is a policy which is executed by both the Central as well as the State government, and hence it requires a high degree of transparency and coordination. The Central government is responsible for procurement, distribution at various centres, setting of prices and storage of food grains at various centres across India. The State govt ensures systematic implementation and execution of this policy without any hindrances. As a part of PDS, 'Antyodya Anna Yojna' targets 6.5 crore people who are extremely poor, and has around 150 million tonnes of food grains for 150 districts.

Operational execution of public distribution of food grains happens in five main steps. Firstly, the Central govt prepares an exhaustive list of poor people, who are facing the problem of mal nutrition and are need of cheap food grains. These people are mostly landless farmers, laborers, people in slums, jobless people residing on footpaths, rickshaw pullers etc. Reaching out to the right people is a herculean task for the government.

The second phase of PDS is providing 'ration cards' or identity cards to the poor people who can avail these food grains at affordable prices. These cards are distributed to only those below poverty line, who cannot even afford 2 meals a day. The third phase covers the setting of the price and scale of the food grains to be distributed. Through PDS, wheat is available at Rs.3 per kg and rice at Rs.2 per kg, upto 20 kgs. Thus, analysing and setting the correct prices is also a critical operational factor in PDS.

The fourth step is the most critical and crucial part of the public distribution system. This part is the actual distribution of these products at various centres across the country, which are known as fair price shops. For ensuring maximum reach to the poor and needy people, the total number of FPS are around 5 lakh or half million. These government run stores are present in small villages and rural areas and provide basic commodities at affordable prices.

The final part of this huge operational activity is the monitoring and licensing. Licensing of FPS is a huge exercise as such a tremendous process leads to middlemen who often indulge in malpractices and corruption. Monitoring and implementation of the PDS is undertaken by area officers, secretaries of the government, who are responsible for the smooth administration and functioning of this process at every level. And it is their feedback to the Central govt, which leads to further improvements in this process.

Most of the people reading this article are privileged as they have their basic need of hunger being fulfilled. But for the millions of people who sleep hungry without any food every night, the public distribution system of food grains is a ray of hope for survival.


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