The Sunday Story

For a State notorious for the pilferage and diversion of foodgrains meant for the Public Distribution System — the Rs. 35,000-crore foodgrains scam underscores the mess in Uttar Pradesh — food security, especially in rural areas, may no longer seem a distant dream.

Ahead of the national food security law, the State government has also taken steps to clean up and revive the PDS.

About 106.79 lakh families in the State are living below the poverty line (BPL). Of these 40.94 lakh families were ration cardholders under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) and 65.84 lakh families were beneficiaries of the BPL cardholders. Another 338 lakh are Above Poverty Line cardholders. A total of 52.84 lakh metric tonnes of foodgrains (wheat and rice) is allotted to Uttar Pradesh. Currently, there are 74,056 fair price shops (61,044 in rural areas and 13,012 in urban areas).

Those with APL cards are entitled to a minimum 10 kg of wheat, at Rs 6.60 a kg. Those with BPL and AAY cards are given 35 kg of foodgrains — BPL beneficiaries have to pay Rs. 4.65 a kg for wheat and Rs. 6.15 a kg for rice; for AAY families, the rates are Rs. 2 a kg for wheat, Rs. 3 a kg for rice. In addition, BPL and AAY cardholders are given 700 grams of sugar per unit per card at the rate of Rs. 13.50 a kilogram. 79.5 per cent of the population in rural areas and 64.43 per cent in urban areas will be covered under the food security scheme.

In the past, the nexus between officials and ‘kotedars’ or fair price shop owners, facilitated the allocation of foodgrains without the actual payment by fair price shop owners. To thwart such practices, the State government has introduced the RTGS (Real Time Gross Settlement) and NEFT (National Electronic Funds Transfer). So far, these measures seem to have worked. Food Commissioner Archana Agarwal says: “Now, online challans can be downloaded, and the money deposited by the fair price shop owners is fed in the challans. Wheat, rice and sugar are also allocated district-wise. The bank accounts of all owners are now online. In doing so, we have struck at the first point of corruption.”

This system was introduced in August 2012, and the trial run started in September 2012. By October 2012, it was made mandatory for all fair price shop owners.

“This intervention, apart from ensuring timely payment for the allocation of foodgrains, has led to a saving of Rs. 41 lakh a month by way of commission, and in 10 months, a saving of Rs. 5 crore has been deposited in the exchequer,” Ms. Agarwal said. A toll-free call centre to register complaints from the people, sending text messages about the lifting of foodgrains by fair price shops and computerisation of ration card data were the other steps taken to strengthen the PDS.

The Food Security Scheme, it is expected, will gel well with the reforms the State government has introduced — though the process to identify the beneficiaries under the national law is yet to begin in Uttar Pradesh. There is a feeling in the State that for the programme to succeed, there is a need to club it with other schemes like the rural grain banks scheme, at least to ensure the availability of grain to the needy.