Bindu Shajan Perappadan

‘Despite being riddled with problems, the PDS ensures that there is food on the table of the poor’

NEW DELHI: Caught in the inflationary spiral of escalating food costs, the much talked about public distribution system is probably the only buffer available to the poorest of the poor allowing them to keep starvation at bay.

Dependent on the system in the Capital are lakhs of below-poverty-line families who claim that despite the PDS being riddled with problems of end-users having to make do with low-quality foodgrains, over-charging, pilferage and not getting their due share of ration, it ensures that there is food on the table, especially now when they cannot afford to buy from the open market any more.

“With the escalating costs of essential commodities, sustained food and oil supply through the PDS is what is keeping our families buoyant,” says Rita Chander, a 30-year-old resident of Sundar Nagari. Rita, who lives with her husband and three children, is a beneficiary of the PDS.

The cluster of families in Sundar Nagari are special because the group with help from a non-government organisation lead a unique movement in their area to ensure that they get full, good quality ration. Sundar Nagari’s is a success story that many are trying to replicate in the BPL clusters across the Capital now.

Magsaysay Award winner social activist Arvind Kejriwal, whose NGO Parivartan has worked with the people in Sundar Nagari, says: “The PDS is the only cushion available to the poorest of the poor against the escalating cost of food and growing food insecurity. This is the government’s regulatory mechanism to ensure that the poor do not get adversely hit due to growing food prices.”

“Critical as it is, the system, however, is not free of ills. Large-scale pilferage, selling of sub-standard products at higher than government prescribed prices, not providing the common man his due share of ration and virtually warding off people from making use of the ration system has been reported,” he says.

Siphoned off

“A survey conducted by us some time ago showed that over 90 per cent of the wheat and rice meant for the PDS in a specific part of Delhi was being siphoned off. The answer to this problem is to ensure that the common man knows about his rights, the Government is made more accountable and local self-governance schemes are put in place. Also, the common man needs to be vigilant and the Government needs to understand that being accountable helps to ensure that the common man, who is totally dependent on the system, is not cheated out of his share of food security,” adds Mr. Kejriwal.

Santosh, a social worker who has helped the people of Sundar Nagari and other pockets in the city to stand up and demand their share ration, says: “Poverty and ignorance are the biggest bane in our community. While things have improved for us, several pockets in Delhi are coming to us for help against shopkeepers who hoard or divert food grains depriving the poor of food. Those dependent on ration shops have to face physical, mental and emotional abuse to get what rightfully belongs to them. Now with the costs of essential goods shooting up, the PDS is our safety net.”