Physically and fiscally unsustainable" is how the Central government’s Department
of Food and Public Distribution describes the tottering Public Distribution System (PDS).
Unfair: The mainstream PDS has huge leakages. By comparison, this alternative is more efficient and empowering
PDS, perhaps the largest welfare measure anywhere in the world, amounts
to a food subsidy bill of Rs 23,828 crore (2006-07). The subsidy stood
at Rs 2,850 crore in 1991-92. Despite the size of the outlay, however,
a large number of the 180 million families targeted by the system do
not receive their share of foodgrains.
Commissioner of the Supreme Court on Food Security, considers the
prevailing state of affairs a mockery of the entire governmental
exercise in securing food and nutrition for millions of Indians living
below the poverty line (BPL). The PDS requires over 75 million tonnes
of foodgrain, at 35 kg per family per month. The entitlement, however,
is only on paper. In reality, the PDS gets only 25 million.
too, diversions and leakages take away a bulk. At the national level,
the average leakage amounts to around 36.4% of the offtake of the BPL
quota. Bihar had recorded a high of around 81.5% in diversions and
leakages. Alarmed by the state’s inability to shore up food security,
policymakers have been contemplating a number of measures. "It will be
good idea to look at direct transfers or just giving cash to the poor,"
A new approach
the governmental machinery battles the issue, Deccan Development
Society (DDS), an NGO in Medak district of Andhra Pradesh, has
demonstrated a viable and sustainable alternative public distribution
system (APDS), where foodgrain production, procurement, storage and
distribution is carried out at the village level. Interestingly, the
entire system is managed by women, mostly dalit, grouped as sanghams.
alternative PDS goes beyond ‘food security’ to a more refined concept
of ‘food sovereignty.’ "It’s not enough to empower communities to
access food. They should also grow and consume what they want to," says
PV Satheesh, Director, DDS.
system, which embraces coarse cereals and a variety of millets, the
traditional food of the region, has ensured food, nutrition, fodder and
livelihood security to communities who participate in the programme. It
has been proven across 50 villages, over 2,000 hectares, in the
semi-arid, south-western parts of Andhra Pradesh.
believes that the rice- and wheat-driven PDS and the continued neglect
of coarse grains has serious implications for both dry-land farming and
food security in the country. "The government has spent all its
resources in marginalising the most nutritive millets that people have
grown on their rainfed lands and driven it out of people’s food
systems," he says.
rests on an elaborate system to bring fallows under cultivation. The
DDS extends a loan to each member, based on the cost of low-input and
organic cultivation, and the money required to convert fallows into
productive land. This amount is to be repaid in the form of grain and
cash over a period of five years, in pre-fixed quantities and pre-fixed
rates. For instance, in the first year, a farmer will have to repay 150
kg of sorghum (jowar) and Rs 125 cash.
The grain component thus collected goes into a community grain store. Women of the sangham,
through participatory approaches of wealth ranking, rate households in
the village on a scale of four. The destitute black card holders
receive the maximum monthly entitlement of jowar at a subsidised rate.
Accordingly, entitlements are apportioned—the landless poor (red card
holders), marginal farmers (green card) and the small farmer (yellow).
The money received from the sale of foodgrain is deposited in a bank as
the Community Grain Fund (CGF), which is utilised year after year to
reclaim more fallows.
result of the initiative has been remarkable. In 2002, when India faced
one of the most severe droughts in recent times, none of the APDS
villages were in stress. "In fact, some of the villages had more than
they needed," says Satheesh.
2003, when Andhra Pradesh announced subsidised seeds for farmers, there
was a mad rush to buy them. Police had to fire on farmers at a block
near Hyderabad. In Zaheerabad, where much of the DDS work has been
undertaken, scores of villages were sitting on gene banks, huge
quantities of dozens of varieties of seeds. Women sanghams, over the years, have even retrieved over 80 seed varieties on the brink.
APDS villages produce an extra 1.5 million kg of jowar every year,
which translates into 3 million extra meals per year; over 1,000 extra
meals for every participating family. The fodder produced by the newly
cultivated fields sustains over 10,000 head of cattle and, in each
village, 2,500 extra wages have been created per year.
The APDS has now been expanded to the Telangana and Rayalseema regions, and also in two districts of coastal Andhra Pradesh.
has established the viability of a robust community-driven PDS. All
that is required is a one-time investment that can banish or reduce to
a great extent the mounting food subsidies every year.
harsh dryland conditions, every village community can be
self-sufficient in food production and ensure its own food security.
But it must have access to resources and credit. Once it is made
available, there can be vibrant food-producing, food-secure communities
in this country," says Satheesh.
for the denouement: In the mainstream PDS, for every Rs 7 that is spent
on the programme, only Re 1 reaches the ultimate consumer; while in the
APDS, out of every Rs 1.60 spent on the programme, Re 1 reaches the