The CAG’s reporttabled in Delhi Legislative Assembly on April 3 has thrown a volley of harsh questions at the ruling AamAdmi Party. The report has highlighted the stark corruption prevalent in the National Capital’s public distribution system (PDS).
PDS has been grappling with innumerable problems including faulty Adhaar linkages and failure in verification of biometric data. The National Food Security Act (NFSA) 2013 which was touted to bring a reform in PDS has left a lot in wanting even after 5 years of its enactment.
“Till now NFSA’s important provisions regarding PDS have not been implemented infull-fledgedmanner by many state governments,” says DeepaSinha, Assistant Professor of Economics, Ambedkar University who has done extensive work on PDS.
As per section 14 of NFSA every state government had to put in place an internal grievance redressal mechanism which would have toll free call centers, state web portals, help lines numbers,“but all this remains nonfunctional,” says Sinha.
Another one of CAG’s report titled ‘Audit on the Preparedness for Implementation of National Food Security Act, 2013’ brought to light the ineptitude of the system. The report which was tabled in Parliament in April, 2016 stated that many states’ toll free numbers for registering complaintswere not functional and even if they were, technical glitchesmade sure thatno record of the complaint was kept.
A similar fault was also noted by ZohebHussainwho was appointed as local commissioner by the Delhi high court to visit fair price shops. Following a case filed by Delhi Rozi Roti AdhikarAbhiyan,in September last year Delhi government had appointed Hussain who in his report stated out how complaints registered with the helplines were not visible and the result their statuses could not be tracked.
To resolve public grievances in a time bound manner, the NFSA in Section 15, had also made a provision that directed the State Government to appoint a District Grievance Redressal Officer (DGRO).
“Instead of creating a new post of DGRO, the state governments have devolved this additional responsibility to the Deputy Commissioners.The commissioners are already over-burdened with work. How will they effectively take on this additional responsibility too?” added Deepa.
National Council of Applied Economic Research Report (2015) ‘Evaluation Study of Targeted PDS’ on the basis of ground level surveys, pointed out that DGROs gave feedback to zero per cent of registered complaints in Assam and 8.31 per cent of registered complaints in Karnataka, whereas it is 42.40 per cent in Bihar and dismal 17 per cent in UP.
SC in July last yearc ame down heavily on the government for its failure to promulgate rules under the NFSA relating to transparency, grievance redressal and accountability. InSwarajAbhiyanvsUnion of India of India &ors, a two-Judge Bench of Justice Madan B Lokur and NV Ramana made observations that enactment of NFSA had been unsatisfactory. The SC pointed out how bodies mandated to be set up under the act have not yet been constituted or are not functional such as constitution of state food commission and appointment of food commissioners.
NFSA’s Section 28 requires periodic social audits to keep the system abreast with how it is functioning at the ground level. These audits are the core of bridging the gap between vision and reality but sadly, they have not been conducted in Delhi even once.
Social audit is stated as one of the most important provisions of NFSA that has potential to plug the existing loopholes in PDS shops. “Lack of awareness and expertise to conduct a social audit is proving to be the biggest hurdleon groundlevel,” says Sinha .
PDS if implemented well can prove to be a boon for a very large section of the Indian population. For its improvement“consolidation of existing guidelines” is the key according to Sinha. “Government should also look into privatizing the PDS and put in place a decentralized grievance redressal mechanism along with end to end computerization, SMS alerts, priority filtration mechanism,” added Sinha.
Lastly adding how government should take support of the recommendations made by Shantaram Committeee and Justice Wadhwa Committee, Sinha said that “emphasis should also be given to increase awareness of the public about their entitlements with regards to PDS.”
RAJAT MISHRA is a Freelance journalist and a student pursuing Master in Convergent Journalism at Jamia Millia Islamia.