R.P. Gupta, Principal Secretary to Government of Gujarat, Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Department, writes:

In Gujarat, PDS is exclusionary, leaky, getting worse” (August 17), your Correspondent Rukmini S., mainly focuses on the alleged weakness of the Gujarat Public Distribution System based on old data. It is clear that she has not countered any of the points raised by the Chief Minister of Gujarat.

The article mentions some analysis of National Sample Survey Office data, which has never been sent to the government of Gujarat and is unclear. It has never been published anywhere. It quotes one Ms. Dand. How Ms. Dand has come to this conclusion is not known. She also quotes 1998 data. But this is done by government of India policy. In fact, distortion arises due to the GOI and Planning Commission methodology of identifying the poor.

Under the current system of PDS, the government of India allocates [to Gujarat] foodgrains for 21.2 lakh Below Poverty Line/Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) families only. Though the State government has identified about 32 lakh BPL/AAY families and has repeatedly requested the government of India to enhance allocation of BPL food grain, the latter has not agreed. Consequently, the State government, in the interest of the BPL families, had no option but to divert part of the APL allocation and this was endorsed by the government of India.

It is also incorrectly stated that 71 lakh families listed as Above Poverty Line are not provided any subsidised foodgrains. These families are provided up to 15 kg per card at the rate of Rs. 7.50 per kg, which is much less than market rate of food grains.

The article attacks the government of Gujarat on the number of BPL families and points out that nearly half the names are fake and excludes thousands of genuinely poor and vulnerable households. Whereas, it is appropriate to mention here, that the Supreme Court of India has made kind observations on the efficacy of Bar Coded Ration Cards issued in Gujarat to ensure that the rightful cardholders get the ration and to minimise leakages.

This article does not focus on deficiencies pointed out by the Chief Minister, which if taken in positive spirit, would have made the “Right to Food” a proper and appropriate legislation in letter and spirit.

Rukmini S. responds:

We stand by our story, which was entirely based on analyses of up-to-date, official and published data.

The arguments the Gujarat Chief Minister made in his letter to the Prime Minister on the provisions of the National Food Security Bill (NFSB) were widely reported in the media and are not relevant to my story. The letter was simply a news peg to go beyond the government's claims, to what the numbers actually say about the state of the PDS in Gujarat. The flaws in the NFSB are many, and have been detailed at length elsewhere in The Hindu.

The analysis of 2009-10 NSSO data was done not by “Ms Dand,” as Mr. Gupta states, but by IIT-Delhi economist Dr. Reetika Khera, as I clearly mention in the story, and was published in the Economic & Political Weekly. In fact, more recent analysis published by the economist Himanshu has shown that leakage of grain in Gujarat has got worse in 2011-12.

The problems in the methodology of identifying the poor are serious, but neither unique to Gujarat nor relevant in this case. Many States, including Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh, moreover, have chosen to go beyond Central caps.

I am aware that the diversion of grain from the APL quota is approved by the Centre, and hence used the word “officially.” The claim that APL families get no grain was, again, as we say in the story, made by the Justice Wadhwa Committee in 2009, and then reiterated from the field by the Anna Adhikar Suraksha Abhiyaan in 2013.

Nowhere does the Gujarat government counter the two central criticisms of the PDS in Gujarat — that it is more exclusionary than the NFSB, and that it has among the country’s highest rates of grain diversion.