Participating in the second meeting of the Chief Ministers' Working Group on Food and Public Distribution here, Chattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh on Wednesday asked the Centre to make the public distribution system (PDS) universal in the Left-Wing Extremism-affected districts, as well as, all Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste families living in tribal areas to do away with “errors of exclusion.”

Mr. Singh is a member of the working group, set up by the Core Group of Central Ministers and State Chief Ministers, chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, earlier this year. Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, the other high-profile member, skipped the meeting that lasted over an hour.

Chaired by Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the meeting was attended, among others, by Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council chairman C. Rangarajan, Planning Commission member Abhijit Sen, Member-Secretary Sudha Pillai and Food Corporation of India chairman Siraj Hussain.

Drawing from the successful delivery of the PDS in his State, Mr. Singh said in the present dispensation of food allocation by the Centre, many destitute people surviving on government pension and disabled persons were excluded from the Below Poverty Line (BPL) list for availing subsidised foodgrains. The State runs 152 ‘Dal Bhat Kendras' in urban and semi-urban areas that feed 15,000 to 20,000 people daily at Rs. 5 per meal. “Such eateries at reasonable rates should be opened all over the country,” he said.

The Chief Minister said Above Poverty Line (APL) entitlement should not be less than 35 kg per month per family, albeit at a price higher than the BPL. The BPL quota of foodgrains for States must be fixed for long-term on the basis of the N.C. Saxena Committee report or at least, the Tendulkar Committee report.

He suggested that fair price shops (FPS) be taken away from individuals and handed over to gram panchayats, cooperative societies, women self-help groups, the Forest Protection Committees or the State Civil Supplies Corporation as had been done in Chattisgarh. “Supply of public distribution items to the FPS should necessarily be completed by the seventh of every month, because people have better purchasing power during the first 10 days of the month. We organise ‘Chawal Utsav' [rice festival] at each FPS on the 7th of each month, where people's representatives are present during distribution.”