Revamp PDS to implement Food Bill: Pawar

New Delhi: Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar today said it will be difficult to implement the proposed Food Security Act with existing distribution system and suggested massive reforms.

"I will be failing in my duty if I do not emphasise the fact that the Food Security Act will never succeed in achieving its goal in letter and spirit, if we try to push the same through the existing PDS apparatus," Pawar said at a conference here.The minister felt that "a massive process re-engineering" was required to make the Public Distribution System (PDS) compatible with the proposed law.

The Food Security Act aims to provide legal entitlement over subsidised foodgrains to 63.5 per cent of the country`s population. The bill was introduced in Parliament in December 2011 and the same has been referred to the Standing Committee.

While Pawar emphasised on ensuring food security of the country, he expressed concern about various limitations in the existing PDS.

"There is a general perception that I have reservation about the Food Security Act. However, reservation apart, there is no denying the fact that as a welfare nation, time has really come to ensure that each and every citizen of this country gets two square meals a day," he noted. "My only concern is whether the existing mechanism is compatible enough with the spirit of this Act?" he observed.

Pawar outlined serious limitations in the existing PDS such as capacities of mandis, financial position of state agencies, manpower, storage and movement among others.

That apart, Pawar said there is a need for massive programme to boost foodgrains production, which will require huge investment in irrigation, power, fertiliser and seeds. On PDS reforms, Pawar said that it may not be a good idea to have a central tailor-made system for the entire country. "But each state must take up the reforms in the PDS in mission mode before we launch the Food Security Act".

He said that critical issues in the sectors of foodgrains production, procurement, storage and distribution need to addressed immediately. "We should not waste the time available from now till the passage of the law in the Parliament," he said.

When asked about Pawar`s reservation on Food bill on the sidelines of the conference, Food Minister K V Thomas said,"whatever he said was not wrong. We need to produce more and strengthen PDS to implement this law." The minister noted that all state food and agriculture ministers have gathered here to discuss the critical issues.

Meanwhile, UIDAI Chairman Nandan Nilekani made a presentation on use of Aadhaar (unique identification number) to strengthen the PDS. The two-day conference will debate on ways to improve PDS and to come up with an action plan to help the law become a success.

Implementation of the Food Bill would require raising the annual procurement level to about 65 million tonnes from the current average 55 million tonnes. Under the proposed law, about 7 kg of foodgrains per month would be supplied to a priority household and 3 kg a month to a general household.