The Sunday Story Some State are likely to be hard-pressed to deliver on an expanded Public Distribution System.
Even if the UPA was successful in getting the support of regional parties for the passage of the National Food Security Bill in the Lok Sabha, another round of conflict is coming up when implementation begins in the States.
With a wide variation in their preparedness, some State are likely to be hard-pressed to deliver on an expanded Public Distribution System.
While India now has five lakh ration shops to serve six lakh villages, there is wide inter-State variation in the density of coverage. Poorer States like Bihar are also the ones where coverage will expand exponentially; Bihar alone will be legally obliged to cover double the number of households that now have ration-cards. The Supreme Court-appointed Justice Wadhwa Committee had found that Tamil Nadu had 31,000 fair price shops, while Jharkhand had 14,000. “The committee had suggested that there be a fair price shop within a three-km radius for everyone. It is not clear how the governments will ensure this,” Dipa Sinha of the Right to Food campaign said.
On some issues, including transport of grain to fair price shops and the shop dealers’ margins, the Centre is working with the States. “There will be intra-State sharing of the cost of transport of foodgrains and on the commission paid to fair price shop dealers. What the proportion of this sharing will be is still to be worked out. We have sought data from the States, and the details will be in the Rules of the Bill,” an official of the Food Ministry, who asked not to be named, told The Hindu.
At the moment, transport expenses are borne by the States which are free to pass the cost on to the beneficiary. However, since the Food Security Bill will fix prices that the States cannot exceed, this arrangement will now need to be reworked.
Another long-pending issue is that of storage. Over one lakh tonnes of foodgrains, worth Rs. 236.32 crore, were lost in “transit, storage and due to theft” between April and June this year, Minister of State for Food (independent charge) K.V. Thomas said in a written reply to the Lok Sabha last week that over half of which was grain lost through poor storage alone. While the Ministry says it has adequate storage for the current foodgrain stocks (81 per cent of available storage space was utilised as of June 2013), it is constructing another 200 lakh mega-tonnes of storage in 19 States. “The Central government has sufficient storage as of now. More is being constructed. We have also asked the States to construct, not out of need, but from the point of view of decentralising storage,” the official said.