The government is considering providing every poor person an option to choose between direct cash transfer or taking ration from fair price shops in the revamped Public Distribution System under the proposed National Food Security law.
The direct cash transfer will provide flexibility to a person to buy food grains from any of the listed shops. In case of ration quota, the person will have to take food grains from a designated fair price shop.
There are over 11.5 crore families listed as below poverty line even though the Central government recognizes only 6.5 crore of them.
The new formulation worked out by Nandan Nilekani, chairperson of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and Montek Singh Ahluwalia, planning commission deputy chairperson would be enforced when the proposed national food security bill is implemented.
“The idea is to make PDS a flexible system,” said a senior plan panel official.
The revamped fair price shops will offer much more than just the subsidized food grains, which the government proposed to provide at highly subsidized rates. The model proposed for fair price shops says that they should sell any other food item like a neighbourhood grocery store to improve their financial viability.
Nilekani, in his report Information Technology support for PDS, had favoured this “flexi- approach” and said the fair price shops should provide mix of commodities and allow a person to take home his or her monthly quota in as many installments as possible in a month.
The government also wants that a poor person should be able to use unique identification (UID) or Aadhaar number enabled below poverty line card anywhere unlike the existing system where the BPL card can be used only in a designated fair price shop.
“The Aadhaar number could enable this,” the official said.
The new regime being proposed will also offer a wide range of PDS solutions for the state governments as it would accept physical coupons, smartcards, electronic coupons and even facilitate direct cash transfer.
In the new system, the government is looking at setting up dedicated call centers in each state for grievance redress and accessing your PDS account through a mobile. The PDS account will tell the beneficiary the amount of ration availed and the balance.
According to government officials, the new approach would be finalized at the meeting of Empowered Group of Ministers headed by finance minister Pranab Mukerjee, which is also examining the proposed food law.