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

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Casting the Net

India’s Public Distribution System after the Food Security Act

A broad-brush assessment of the public distribution system is presented in six of India’s poorest states—Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and West Bengal—soon after the National Food Security Act, 2013 came into force. Important gains have been made, including broader coverage, lower targeting errors, accelerated PDS reforms, and a greater political commitment to food security. In four of the six reference states, the PDS seems to be doing reasonably well, but Bihar and Jharkhand still have a long way to go. Even in the leading states, much remains to be done to achieve the purpose of the NFSA: ending food insecurity.

The authors are grateful to Sachin Jain, Rajkishor Mishra, Nandini Nayak, Sulakshana Nandi, Gangabhai Paikra, and Kumar Rana for their help in planning the field survey in the different states. They thank Swati Chaurasia, Anshika Jain, Souparna Maji, and Anand Prakash for their assistance with data verification. They are also grateful to the food department officials in the reference states for providing us helpful clarifications, especially Ashok Barnwal, Subhra Chakrabarti, Vinay Kumar Choubey, Rajeev Jaiswal, Prakash Kumar, Madhusudan Padhi, Pratibha Sinha, and A K Somasekhar. They thank Mihika Chatterjee, Aaditya Dar, Aarushi Kalra, Chinmaya Kumar, Siddhartha Mitra, Raghav Puri, Anmol Somanchi, and the anonymous EPW referee for their helpful comments. Finally, they thank all the volunteers who participated in the field survey for their spirited cooperation.

India’s National Food Security Act (NFSA) (2013) is one of the largest social security initiatives in global history. It covers more than 800 million people through the public distribution system (PDS) alone, aside from mandating nutritious midday meals for children and maternity benefits for pregnant women. Oddly, however, the rollout of the act has received little attention from the research community and mainstream media.

This is a serious blind spot, considering that the provisions of the act are of great importance for the poor. The PDS, in particular, is a significant source of economic security for many. The recent starvation deaths in Jharkhand highlight the dangers of disrupting this critical lifeline of the rural poor (Drèze 2017b; Dutta 2018).

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Updated On : 11th Feb, 2019
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