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Updated: November 27, 2009 12:56 IST

Functioning of PDS in Tamil Nadu

A. NARAYANAMOORTHY
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Discusses the problem of food security in the context of the PDS, with its focus on Tamil Nadu

Food security has been a perpetual problem in a country like India possibly because of three main factors: increasing population, an unpredictable foodgrains production, and a corrupt distribution system. An additional factor, sometimes, is price rise in the world market. While reduced availability of foodgrains and price rise impact the people in general, the poor are affected the most. Of all the intervention programmes launched over the years in India to protect the vulnerable sections, the Public Distribution System (PDS) is notable.

This book discusses the problem of food security in the context of the PDS, with its focus on Tamil Nadu, one of the States where the system is better managed. Of the six chapters in it, the first two are based totally on secondary information, while the next two analyse primary data. The fifth chapter discusses major issues related to the PDS and the sixth presents the conclusions and recommendations of the author.

Although the PDS has been studied in detail by several scholars, its functioning in Tamil Nadu has not been looked at on the basis of a large sample survey. This apparently prompted A.M. Swaminathan to take up this study.

The introductory chapter neatly highlights the history of the PDS, the changes it went through under successive five-year Plans, the modifications brought in by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhgam during their regimes, and the money spent on it by the government in different years. All this information will be found useful by the young readers/researchers who may not be well acquainted with the PDS operations in the State. Unlike many of the earlier studies that tended to be unidirectional — carried out on the basis of information collected from the cardholders or secondary data — this one reflects the view of all the stakeholders, people who are connected with the PDS either directly or indirectly. There were two sets of samples — first, consumer households, and the second representing different categories such as farmers, traders, NGOs, academicians, administrations and politicians. The first group had a sample size of 1,000 households drawn from ten districts spread across different regions of the State.

In-depth analysis

What emerges from the study is an in-depth analysis of the performance of the PDS in the State. Although the inferences drawn do match that of other available studies, some of them appear to be at variance with the reality. For instance, what is projected as the farmers’ viewpoint on the minimum support price does not reflect the majority view of the community, as evidenced by the clamour for higher MSP for paddy. As for the political opinion, the study has elicited the views only of major parties that have been in power — the DMK, the AIADMK, and the Congress — ignoring the smaller ones like the CPI, the CPI (M), and the PMK. For that reason, one is left with an incomplete picture of what the political class thought of the PDS.

Not justified

Although the primary survey suggests that the PDS in Tamil Nadu has been working very well and that most stakeholders are happy about its functioning, the author does not seem to support the universal PDS operating in the State. His contention that “…from any point of view, the present price of Rs.2 per kg for rice cannot be justified,” appears to be correct. One hardly finds any justification for the heavily subsidised price for rice, given the increased money wage rates for the agricultural and other workers in recent years.

Discussing the question whether the populist measures like heavily subsidised or free rice pay electoral dividends, the author cites analytical studies in Andhra Pradesh to argue that they have not yielded such gains. Nor have they resulted in any significant reduction in poverty. He goes on to ask: Given this, where is the justification for continuing the universal PDS now in vogue in Tamil Nadu?

The key message that issues from the book is that the universal PDS now in operation is inefficient, corruption-ridden, mismanaged, and not sustainable. It makes out a case for a well-targeted PDS. The author seems to have imposed his own views — especially in respect of the subsidised rice scheme — and this could have been avoided. Yet, his recommendations for improving the PDS performance merit consideration. Finally, I must say that the book is about the functioning of the PDS in Tamil Nadu rather than about food security as the title claims.

FOOD SECURITY — Policy Options for Tamil Nadu: A.M. Swaminathan, Academic Foundation, 4772-73/23, Bharat Ram Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi-110002. Rs. 595.

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