Extensive cover, increased allotments and a relatively efficient distribution system have helped Tamil Nadu cope with the rise in food prices
Tamil Nadu is reputed to have one of the best Public Distribution Systems in the country, with a majority aware of their entitlements and demanding their quotas from ration shops under the scheme
The Public Distribution System is the only safety net for the poor and the low-income groups against inflation. Rice at Rs. 2 a kg, sugar at Rs. 13.50 a kg and wheat at Rs. 7.50 a kg shield them from the soaring prices in the open market.
Though rice prices have gone up by Rs. 3 a kg for most varieties in the open market, this has had only a minimal impact on the monthly budgets of large sections of the people in Tamil Nadu. Cardholders in the State get a minimum of 12 kg and a maximum of 20 of rice a month.
About 5.5 crore people of the State’s population of 6.12 crore are covered under the PDS through 1.85 crore family cards. Of those left out, many are from the upper income groups, and have chosen to stay out. Of the remainder are those whose applications for ration cards are pending with various district and taluk supply offices.
One lakh such applications are under such process. The PDS even covers those living on encroached lands. But worryingly, those without a home, who constitute the poorest of the poor, are left out of the net. On an average about 2.8 lakh to 2.89 lakh tonnes of rice is distributed through the PDS a month. A Civil Supplies Department official told The Hindu that the offtake of PDS rice has been increasing and the State is fully utilising Central allotments under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) and below poverty line allocations.
The State is lifting 65,262 tonnes under the AAY at Rs. 3 a kg, 1.04 lakh tonnes at Rs. 5.65 a kg under BPL quota and the rest at Rs. 8.30 a kg from the above the poverty line quota to meet its requirement of close to 3 lakh tonnes for the PDS.
There has been an increasing demand for PDS wheat. But the State has been able to meet it, as the Central allotment is well below the requirement.
Against a monthly demand of about 10,000 tonnes, the State gets only 3,800 tonnes. Though the State is getting an additional ad hoc allotment every month, it has written to the Centre asking for the monthly quota to be increased to 10,000 tonnes.
In the case of sugar, too, the current allotment of 10,832 tonnes is insufficient to meet the requirement, which is 24,140 tonnes.
To bridge the gap, the State is purchasing non-levy sugar from the Sugar Cooperative Federation at the open market rate. The difference in cost is met from the food subsidy bill.
The State also supplies tuvar dhal, black gram, palmolein and fortified atta through the PDS. There has been a good demand for these items also as open market prices of these commodities are rising.
Supplying these commodities at lesser prices through the PDS will definitely have an impact on open market prices, the official said. Despite some deficiencies, the PDS in the State is considered to be one of the best in the country.
A majority of the beneficiaries, including those from the poorest sections, are aware of their entitlement and demand their quota from the ration shops.