ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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What Is the Effective Delivery Mechanism of Food Support in India?

A Demand-side Assessment of Alternative Apparatus

The public distribution system is the cornerstone of anti-poverty initiatives in India to address the issue of hunger and malnutrition, but is plagued with leakages and corruption. Though several possible reasons account for these problems, one factor that is generally overlooked is the lack of assessment of the preference of the beneficiaries in terms of product portfolio, selection, and delivery mechanisms. Through a mixed methods analysis across Bihar, Odisha and (eastern) Uttar Pradesh, this paper assesses the factors explaining the diversity in the preference for the delivery mechanism. What would be a straightforward choice problem among delivery mechanisms turns out to be far more intricate when mediated by contextual heterogeneity and unequal power relations at different levels. The results highlight the centrality of demand and build a case for demand assessment in improving the effectiveness of the system.

The authors would like to thank IFPRI-Tata Cornell Institute (TARINA), New Delhi Office, for receiving partial financial support for conducting the research used in this paper. The authors declare no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship and/or publication of this paper.

Broadly, two lines of arguments characterise the policy debate regarding the ideal delivery mechanism for the public distribution system (PDS) of foodgrains. The first supports a gradual move towards a system based on food coupons or direct cash transfers (DCT), either of which could be used at private retail like a standard food stamp (Kotwal et al 2011; Chaudhuri and Somanathan 2011). The alternative argument supports reforms of the existing PDS of in-kind transfers (Khera 2011) with increased monitoring and enforcement, and expansion of coverage well past the current below poverty line (BPL) population, making it more extensive as well as more generous.

The main context for this debate comes from the issues in the existing PDS, several reforms and the advent of the National Food Security Act (NFSA) 2013 notwithstanding. The PDS
continues to be plagued with charges of corruption, overpricing and delivery of low quality grains (Jha et al 2013; Swaminathan 2008).1 Additionally, significant power asymmetries are visible in the delivery of services, time-consuming bureaucratic procedures and ineffective grievance redressal systems.

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Updated On : 19th Oct, 2019
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