Chhattisgarh Food and Civil Supplies Secretary Vikas Sheel, considered the architect of the Raman Singh government’s much-praised food distribution system, legislated as the Chhattisgarh Food Security Act, 2012, discusses with Suvojit Bakshi the challenges that exist to the Public Distribution System (PDS) in the State.

In at least parts of five to six southern (Maoist- affected) districts of Chhattisgarh, the PDS is not working. Security forces stop people from carrying their quota of foodgrains.

The interference [by] security forces remains a challenge. We told the district administration that the PDS has to be kept separate from anti-naxalite operations. It is no more a scheme but a legal right of the people, so interference should come down.

Shops are operating outside the villages. Hence, the villagers had to cover a huge distance to pick up foodgrains.

At the time of Salwa Judum, certain shops were centralised. Wherever there were [Salwa Judum] camps, ration shops were shifted from the villages to the camps. Now, the people are going back to the villages, shops are also sent back subsequently. The target now is that every Gram Panchayat should have a shop, so that people don’t need to travel long distances. We are telling the administration that rather than storing foodgrains closer to the road and asking the beneficiary to travel 40 km, we should ensure that the material reaches the panchayat.

But grains are not reaching the panchayats

Since the shop was centralised and located at road-sides, maintaining a stock was easy. Once the shop goes back to the panchayats, we need to devise a strategy.

Roughly how many ration shops are now operating in about 10 thousand Panchayats?

Only in 200 Panchayats, shops are not established. Barring the districts of Bijapur, Sukma and Narainpur, every Panchayat has a shop. More than 95 per cent of the panchayats are covered.

Ration-cards are also not distributed properly

We have distributed 42 lakh cards. We have reached majority within a month or so. It has some logistical problems since the scale of the programme is huge…but cards are reaching.

The Chhattisgarh Food Security Act says anyone “suffering of hunger” will be provided cooked meals for up to six months…

If there is any person suffering of hunger, we would like to provide adequate food for six months.

How can a person support himself within six months, if he or she could not in so many years?

People may have ration-card but may not have facilities to cook. We will give them cooked food for six months and meanwhile bring them within the PDS, provide ration-cards and get them employment.

[Finding] the money for food security — is it a challenge?

It is a big challenge. So far, we were getting Rs.1,200 crore as food subsidy. Now in the light of National Food Security [Bill] and our own provision, the budget will go up to Rs.2,200 crore in 2013-14. It is a challenge to get the money.

Wastage of foodgrains is an issue in the rest of the country. It is a problem in Chhattisgarh. Will it challenge food security?

There is no damage to foodgrains due to storage for a longer period of time. However, carrying an inventory of a stock for a long time ramps up the cost. If we could procure foodgrains by December-January, which we do, and wrap up the milling by June, the cost would be less. But foodgrains are well protected.