People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 16

April 27, 2008



On The Public Distribution System

Resolution adopted at the 19th congress of CPI(M) on March 31, 2008

THIS 19th congress of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) notes that Public Distribution System (PDS) of food in India has been at the receiving end of the anti-people neo-liberal policies of the central government. The PDS has been deliberately weakened, first by replacing the universal PDS by a Targeted PDS in 1997 and then by gradually weakening the system of public procurement and cutting back on foodgrain allocations to the states. This has been done to cut down on food subsidies on the one hand and to favour foreign and domestic corporates involved in agribusinesses and organised retail trade on the other. The severe impact of a weakened PDS is being felt today, as prices of food and other essential commodities rise steeply. The UPA government, which has failed to bring about any improvement in domestic food production and in public procurement through the FCI, has had to resort to high-cost wheat imports over the last two years. All these point towards a gross mismanagement of the food economy, which has fuelled overall inflation and caused hardship for the poor.

The Common Minimum Programme of the UPA government promised that the UPA “will work out, in the next three months, a comprehensive medium-term strategy for food and nutrition security. The objective will be to move towards universal food security over time, if found feasible.” Four years later, this remains an unfulfilled promise. Even in the Budget 2008-09, food subsidy has been increased by only about 3.5 per cent over 2007-08 (RE), which, in the backdrop of a 6 per cent inflation rate, amounts to a reduction of food subsidy in real terms. Far from strengthening the PDS, total central allotments of wheat and rice to the states were cut drastically in 2006-07 to the tune of 137.6 lakh tonnes from last year. The cut in allocation was almost entirely for the allotments under the APL category.

The system of targeting has meant massive exclusion. The sections of the population that constitute the entire APL category are now virtually out of the food security system. Recently released NSS data (2004-2005) show that 70.5 per cent of all rural households, 52 per cent of all agricultural worker households, 60.7 per cent of all rural scheduled caste households, and 55.4 per cent of all tribal households either have no ration cards or only APL cards, thus effectively excluding them from the PDS. Such massive exclusion can be reversed only by universalising the PDS. The exclusion of migrant workers from being eligible for ration cards is a serious problem which has to be addressed through specific measures.

Eligibility for the PDS must be de-linked from the current estimates of poverty currently put out by the Planning Commission.

The methodology of poverty estimation followed by the government and the process of identification of families below the poverty line (BPL) are deeply flawed. According to the Planning Commission, only 27.5 per cent of our country's population is BPL (2004-05), calculated on the basis of a poverty line of monthly per capita consumption expenditure of Rs 356.30 for rural areas and Rs 538.60 for urban areas. However, the Report of the National Commission of Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (based on NSS 2004-05) has noted that 77 per cent of India’s population, that is, 83.6 crore persons, spend less than Rs 20 per head per day (or Rs 600 per head per month). The National Family Health Survey of 2005-06 has also shown that 40 per cent of India’s children under three years of age and more than one-third of women are underweight while 70 per cent of children and 55 per cent women in India are anaemic. In this context, to use flawed official poverty estimates to determine food allocations for the Targeted PDS is to deny the poor their share in national resources.

The 19th congress demands an immediate reversal of these policies. Universal PDS must be reintroduced and subsidised food made available to all sections of the people. Other essential commodities such as pulses and edible oil should also be supplied through the PDS.

The 19th congress resolves to build a powerful mass movement for the reintroduction of the universal PDS and its strengthening and expansion.

Strengthen the Public Distribution System!

Reintroduce Universal PDS

to Safeguard Food Security!