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

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Impact of Public Distribution System on Quality and Diversity of Food Consumption

The public distribution system is criticised for encouraging the poor to satiate their hunger with cheap cereals at the expense of other non-cereal food items, thus indirectly aggravating deficiencies of protein and other nutrients. An in-depth analysis shows that this is not actually so; the consumption of some non-cereal foods increases with the consumption of cereals, indicating a complementary relationship. This becomes possible through the implicit savings the PDS generates for its beneficiaries, due to subsidised cereal prices. Despite this, nutrient deficiency among poorer sections persists, and a comprehensive expansion of the PDS introducing certain non-cereal foods into its ambit can help tackle this issue.


The discourse on the public distribution system (PDS) in India has mostly been centred on its ability (or the lack of it) to provide basic food security to the poor in terms of calories, by providing carbohydrate-rich cereals at a cheap price. There are studies that have shown evidence of its effectiveness in augmenting the calorie intakes of poor beneficiaries (Kumar and Ayyappan 2014). The critics, on the other hand, have pointed out the “inefficiencies” of the PDS due to leakages, and targeting errors (both inclusion and exclusion errors), particularly after the universal PDS was restricted to below poverty line (BPL) families and restructured into a targeted public distribution system (TPDS) in 1997 (Kochar 2005; Ray 2007).

However, post 2005–06, some states like Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, etc, rapidly checked and reversed the problems of leakage and poor targeting (Khera 2011). Some of the problems faced by the PDS—by the very act of restructuring from universal to a TPDS—gave rise to a demand for restoring the universal PDS. In 2013, the National Food Security Act (NFSA) came into being, which expanded the coverage of PDS much beyond the BPL population. A primary survey evaluation conducted in 2016, with a substantial sample size and spread,1 shows that the NFSA, 2013 did achieve a higher coverage of households with lower targeting errors, though a lot still remains to be desired (Drèze et al 2019).

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Updated On : 1st Feb, 2021
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