Aadhaar, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) project, cannot “fix” all that is wrong with the Public Distribution System, Abhijit Sen, member of the Planning Commission, said here on Saturday.
The biometric identification and authentication project has been touted by the Planning Commission as a panacea for all issues that plague the Public Distribution System (PDS), and other government welfare schemes. Dr. Sen explained that the UIDAI's assumption and argument that the real problem of the PDS is that too many people are coming along to claim benefits (offered by the government) is flawed.
Delivering a lecture on ‘Food security in India', jointly organised by the Azim Premji University and Jamia Millia Islamia University, the noted academic spoke about the economics of the Food Security Bill, and responded to critics and articulated his own reservations on the Bill. However, he commenced his lecture with the caveat that he was speaking here in a strictly personal capacity and did not represent the views of the government.
It's a “mistaken notion” that PDS “theft” takes place at the ration shop, Dr. Sen said. “In fact, Chhattisgarh and Odisha have proved that by strictly monitoring the physical movement of goods, using GPS on food trucks, leakages can be drastically brought down.” Data collected by the BPL census (which has covered around 40 per cent of the country so far), and by the Census and NPR prove that our problem is not that too many people are claiming benefits, but that many are being missed out, he said.
This, we cannot afford, given the problem of malnutrition we face, which is comparable if not more than that in Sub-Saharan Africa, he added.
Significantly, the average calorie intake of Indians is at around 400 calories per day, compared to a global average of 3,000 calories, and has been on the decline despite increasing per-capita income.
He dedicated a substantial portion of his lecture to countering criticisms of the Food Security Bill. He said that the notion that the public expenditure involved in implementing this is very high, is a myth.
The government, he explained, with its commitment to farmer security, procures around 60 million tonnes of foodgrains, on an average, annually. Given what is envisaged in the Bill, the requirement for providing food security is not more than 54 to 55 million tonnes, compared to around 47 to 50 million tonnes at present.
What are the costs?
So is the Food Security Bill going to cost the government more? The overall extra expenditure could increase by around Rs. 12,000 crore, Dr. Sen said.
Even this, he explained, is notional, if one is to take into account the government expenditure in storage, holding stocks and so on.