State the objectives envisaged in the public distribution system in India. Also discuss the limitations and steps taken by the government to deal with these limitations.

The Public Distribution System (PDS) is world’s largest Food Security program, catering to over 75% of rural population and 50% of the urban population in India.

Objectives – under National Food Security Act, 2013:

  1. Food security
    • India suffers from serious hunger (score of 26.2 in global hunger index).
    • Over 53% women are anaemic.
    • 14% population is undernourished.
  2. Secured income for farmers
    • Demand-supply inelasticity leads to Prebisch Singer effect.
    • MSP to feed into PDS, acts as assured income for farmers.
  3. Strategic buffer for exceptional times
  4. Additional benefits – food security directly linked to reduce poverty incidence, lower level of pocket health expenditure (currently over 58%).

Limitations:

  1. Market efficiencies – Economic survey 2019-20 raised concerns about anachronistic role of government as largest buyer.
  2. Unbalanced and inequitable support
  • 90% of grains picked from select states like Punjab, Haryana.
  • Exclusive emphasis on wheat, rice (pulses procurement is less than 10% of market surplus).
  • Poor infrastructure – power outage, poor internet penetration results in failure of authentication via Aadhar.
  1. Corruption – good quality grains sold in open market, monopoly by fair price shops, fake ration cards.

Measures taken:

  • Integrated management of PDS – ensure inter-state portability of ration cards.
  • Direct benefit transfer during Covid.
  • Promoting local habits (foods) along with food fortification targets.
  • Initiative like geo-tagging of trucks transporting grains.

These measures aim to strike judicious balance between right to food of citizens and goals of socialist economy.

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