Steps to check smuggling of essential commodities meant for the public distribution system (PDS), elimination of bogus ration cards, formation of local vigilance committees and introduction of smart cards were some of the prominent demands and suggestions aired at a public hearing held by the Central Vigilance Committee on PDS headed by former Supreme Court Judge D.P. Wadhwa here on Thursday.

The committee was currently on a tour of the State to study the functioning of the public distribution system. In his opening remarks, Mr. Wadhwa said the committee was constituted by the Supreme Court following a complaint that more than half of the money spent by the Union government for subsidising food for the poor was being diverted.

The committee was looking into the maladies affecting the system and eliciting suggestions from public and service organisations to improve the system. A section of the public representatives observed that Tamil Nadu had one of the best PDS in the country and welcomed the supply of rice at Re.1 a kg by the State government. The model of running PDS shops through the Cooperation Department has also been successful, said S. Pushpavanam, Secretary, Consumer Protection Council, Tamil Nadu. However, given their “enviable price,” PDS commodities were being siphoned off through various means.

Supply of rice at Re.1 a kg should be restricted to the poor, he said and suggested formation of shop-level vigilance committees for improving their functioning.

K. Raja Mohan Rao, Director, Centre for Study of Social Exclusive and Inclusive Policy, Bharathidasan University, suggested the introduction of smart cards, replacing the ration cards. The card holders should be allowed to draw their quota of commodities from any shop.

Sakunthala Srinivasan, president, Tiruchi Payaneetalar Iyakkam, suggested liberal issue of white-coloured ration cards for people who do not wish to draw PDS commodities but only use the cards as proof of residence.

She also mooted the idea of introducing bio-metric cards to eliminate bogus cards.

S. Vairmani of All India Democratic Women's Association suggested opening fair price shops for every 500 cards to ensure effective supply to all card holders. The full quota of requirements for each shop should be supplied fully. She complained that good quality rice was being smuggled out and demanded steps to stop the same. She suggested opening part-time ration shops in villages. S. Jayakumar, representing the Communist Party of India (Marxist), suggested that all commodities, including rice, should be sold only in packaged form to prevent complaints regarding measurements.

Even though bogus ration cards were being eliminated no action was being taken against officials who had issued them. Ration cards were being mortgaged by poor people and some shops were under the control of local bigwigs, he alleged.

V. Muthukumar, president, Tamil Nadu Consumer Welfare Association, suggested staggered supply of the 20 kg of rice, in five kg quotas each week, to check poor card holders from selling the commodity to traders. T.Vincent, president, District Cooperative Employees Association, suggested that the entire PDS be brought under a single agency.

Meenakshi Chauhan, Susheela R.Bhat and Aashish Arya, members of the committee, K. Rajaraman, Commissioner, Civil Supplies and Consumer Protection, Jatindranath Swain, Registrar, Cooperative Societies, M. Veershanmugamoni, Managing Director, Tamil Nadu Civil Supplies Corporation, T.Soundiah, Collector, T.P. Sundaramoorthy, Inspector General of Police, Civil Supplies CID, and other officials attended the meeting.

Earlier, in the day the committee held discussions with the district officials regarding the functioning of the PDS in the district.