Public distribution system, Ration shops in West Bengal

In this article I will discuss what is public distribution system or ration shops, its features and loop holes in this type of system of food distribution at lower prices by the government of india. You will also get to know how poor people of Bengal are affected through PDS system and how it is corrupted

People in Bengal know about ration shops but they would not be aware of familiar word "Public distribution system". Rationing originated first in Britain during world war II. Same system is followed in india but the only difference is that here in india this system is followed on a regular basis.

This system was first adopted in india in 1939 in Bombay and subsequently spread to other states including Bengal.

Public distribution system (PDS) was first introduced in Bengal to supply essential commodities at subsidized price. The system operates through a wide network of 4.63 lakh fair price shops and ration shops.

Some features of PDS are as follows:

i) Selected essential commodities are distributed through fair price shops and cooperatives that operate under state government control and direction.

ii) The government maintains a buffer stock through the system of procurement of food grains.

iii) Essential commodities are supplied to poor at subsidized prices which are lower than the market price.

iv) Essential commodities selected for PDS are also bought and sold freely in the market.

v) On an average one fair price shop covers a population of 2000. At present PDS meets only 12% to 15% of the individual food requirements of West Bengal.

Public distribution system was made to provide essential consumer goods at subsidized and controlled prices to meet the minimum consumption needs of the consumers. It was also to provide proper quality at low cost.

We know that many government overtakings are not up to the mark because of lack of motivation, red tapism, bureaucratic control and corruption. Same thing applies to public distribution system in Bengal, it suffers due to the following defects:

i) Limited benefits to poor - the coverage of PDS is still inadequate as it fails to cover all persons below poverty line (BPL). The poor have benefitted from PDS only to a limited extent. Both the rural poor and urban poor have depended on PDS for their consumption requirements to a limited extent. Their dependence on the open market is much higher than on the PDS for most of the commodities.

ii) Increase in prices - The PDS has failed to protect the poor of Bengal from the impact of rising prices of food grains and other goods covered by it. In the past few years the importance of the PDS in providing food grains at controlled prices has diminished greatly as a result of steep and frequent increases in procurement and issue prices. Moreover, the hike in PDS prices has put upward pressure on the market prices of food grains also.

iii) Leakages from PDS - There has been diversion of goods from PDS to open market. A very large proportion of food grains, sugar, edible oil etc. does not reach actual users of PDS. Most of the ration shop owners were involved in corrupt practices by selling the food grains in the open market at higher prices instead of selling these at subsidised rates. The shop keepers running fair price shops makes bogus entries in the ration cards and issue food grains against some fake ration cards etc.

iv) Regional disparities in PDS benefits - There have been large regional disparities in the distribution of its benefits. Some of the states like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu have benefited a lot from PDS through a large of take of food grains. The average per capita off take of food grains from PDS was 53.3 kg in kerala, 29.5 kg in tamil nadu, 4.6 kg in madhya pradesh, 2.9 kg in uttar pradesh and 2.3 kg in Bengal. States like Bengal, madhya pradesh, rajasthan and uttar pradesh, where the incidence of poverty is high, have not benefited much from PDS.

v) Urban bias - PDS remained confined to urban areas for a considerable period. PDS was initially confined to largely urban areas in the 1960s and 1970s. Since the mid - 1980s, the PDS has been extended to rural areas leading to a reduction in the urban bias.

vi) Burden of food subsidy - The system has become expensive and thus is a burden on the government exchequer. PDS is highly subsidised in Bengal because the issue price is lower than the economic cost of FCI (procurement price plus transport, storage and distribution cost). This has put a huge fiscal burden on the government.
Food subsidy has mounted over the years.(As of India) From RS. 117 crores in 1972-73, food subsidy rose to RS. 2,850 crores in 1991-92 and RS. 23,200 crores in 2005-06

Therefore, public distribution system in Bengal has not been fruitful. Government should be more cautious about using its treasury. Supplying commodities at lower prices will not do, government should find ways to eradicate poverty which will automatically lower the need of having a public distribution system.


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