Public Distribution System: Problems and Solutions

Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen praised India’s Public Distribution System (PDS). He said that markets couldn’t address issues of poverty and starvation on their own, that government programs must resolve these issues. India has built the largest, though not necessarily the strongest, PDS in the world. This is a commendable step for development in India.

PDSs enable the distribution of essential commodities to large numbers of people. They are a critical component of poverty eradication strategies as they can be used to provide food to malnourished citizens. Even though India has the largest PDS in the world, it does not run as efficiently as it could. It is important to analyze India’s PDSs to determine how the system can be improved.

The Policy, Governance and Advocacy center of Sehgal Foundation began training a group of 25-30 people from six villages in Mewat. These people will represent the poor and advocate for access to their entitlements. In November and December, the group was educated about the Public Distribution System. They began discussing PDS policy with a focus group of trainees. This group had previously been asked to formulate a list of all ration cardholders in their communities. Two kinds of ration cards exist. Yellow cardholders are for people living below the poverty line. Pink cardholders are for the poorest of the poor, who are provided with food grains under governments’ Antyodaya Scheme. The trainees were then asked to talk to ration cardholders to see how much food rations they receive, and how food depots treat them.

Trainess discovered from cardholders that:

  • Rice and Sugar are not available
  • Wheat and Kerosene Oil are distributed at lower quantities than prescribed
  • Ration quantity is not based on number of members in family and is often insufficient for family consumption
  • Wheat is often mixed with sand
  • Wheat stock is very old
  • Ration depots do not display the rate list
  • Some villages lack ration depots
  • Rations are regularly unavailable or insufficient in quantity (once or twice a month)
  • There is a lack of information on SMART CARDS
  • People Above Poverty line (APL) have been issued Below Poverty Line (BPL) cards

The PDS in the village of Notki in Mewat, Haryana experienced severe inefficiency and corruption. A meeting was held on November 14th to discuss the provision of rations through the PDS locally. Two depot holders joined the meeting pretending to be to be Below Poverty Line cardholders and attempted to sabotage the meeting. The community was determined to see an end of corruption in the PDS and successfully continued with the meeting. Afterwards, Notki depot holders agreed to distribute rations to village cardholders the same evening. “We can see the impact of the meeting. It was nice to get the ration the same day,” said a villager.

Cardholders in Notki still do not receive the full quantity of rations prescribed, but they’ve started to receive their rations regularly. More work is needed. Sehgal Foundation’s policy and governance training has educated villagers about weakness in the PDS. They’ve learned that collectively they can work together to demand for what they deserve and put a stop to corruption. Notki village cardholders now understand how to improve the functioning of the PDS in their village.


For more information, please contact:
Email: communications@smsfoundation.org