Total food security for the poor is the primary goal of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government. And it is convinced that universal public distribution system (PDS) ensures better food security.

As a major step in this direction, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has ordered supply of rice free of cost to eligible cardholders under PDS as per their entitlement from June1 despite a huge burden on the State exchequer.

According to Budhichandran, Minister for Food, Tamil Nadu is the only State in the country to launch such a scheme, which has ensured total food security to all the poor and vulnerable people.

“Henceforth, none in this State will be deprived of rice because of lack of money,” he told the Assembly. Thus 1.65 crore families are getting 20 kg free rice every month.

The average monthly sales of rice under PDS in 2010-11, which was around 3.17 lakh metric tonnes, shot up to 3.46 lakh metric tonnes in June this year. “The increase in offtake is partly due to supplying rice free of cost, ensuring availability in all the shops and due to improvement in quality of rice being supplied.”

The government has also adopted a multi-pronged approach to combat food inflation. The first is to continue the scheme of Special PDS till this year-end. Under this, toor dal, urid dal, atta, palmolein oil and condiments will continue to be supplied through the PDS outlets at subsidised rates as earlier. The second is to set up a price stabilisation fund with a corpus of Rs. 50 crore. And with its support, co-operatives and State agencies could intervene in the market at the time of rapidly rising prices.

The third approach is to take effective steps to augment production and availability of food articles facing sizeable demand-supply mismatch like pulses and oil seeds. All these entail a heavy burden on the government and hence the budget estimate for food subsidy which was Rs. 3,950 crore during 2010-11 has been raised to Rs. 4,500 crore for 2011-12.

A major reform that the government has decided to implement is to issue biometric-based smart cards replacing the current family cards to eradicate malpractices.

Besides, the Tamil Nadu Civil Supplies Corporation has taken up several Information Technology-related initiatives like computerisation of all godown activities, providing handheld billing machines in all fair price shops for online monitoring of sales, introduction of global positioning system-based lorry tracking to keep a tab on the movement of rice loads, setting up control room in the head office for registering complaints from the farmers in the delta region during peak procurement and monitoring the stock position of fair price shops through web application for which data is collected through short message service.