With the Centre’s Food Security Bill in focus, there is much talk about the Chhattisgarh PDS model. What is this model and how is it better than the Centre’s Bill?
There is a leakage of more than 40 percent in the PDS throughout the country and many states are struggling with this. But we identified the reason why this was happening and were able to put a stop to it to a large extent. Initially, the Fair Price Shops (FPS) were in private hands. We removed these private shopkeepers and gave the responsibility of managing the ration shops to women’s self-help groups, panchayats and cooperative societies. This was a major legal reform and for this, the government had to fight several cases in the high court. But we managed to succeed at last. Then we focussed on making sure that those running the shops earned a proper income. For this, we increased their commission four times. We opened these shops in all the panchayats and provided an interest-free loan up to Rs 70,000. The shops were also given free rations for a month. Then we created a system to monitor the goods from the warehouse to the shops.
The BJP alleges that the UPA is in a hurry for the polls and that is why they passed a populist scheme like the Food Bill without any discussions, just before the Parliament session. Isn’t it true that in 2007, the rice scheme was passed in Chhattisgarh keeping the Assembly election in mind?
When we started the scheme, we not only wanted to feed the poor but also eradicate malnutrition. According to the Centre’s scheme, only 5 kg of rice is to be given per person while here we are giving 35 kg per family. Keeping in mind the guarantee for nutritional security, we are also providing pulses and salt at affordable rates. The polls were scheduled to be held by the end of 2008 and we had already started the scheme in 2007.
The state does not have the storage capacity to meet the paddy production. Every year, thousands of quintals of grains rot in the open for lack of proper storage. Are there any plans of increasing the warehousing capacity?
The warehousing capacity of the state has been increased five times in the past five years. Now our capacity is more than that of Bihar.
The black marketing of PDS rations is quite common. This is the reason the scheme is failing in states like Tamil Nadu. What systems have you put in place to plug these leakages?
We have put in place a system to take the ration directly from the warehouse to the shops. Once the goods reach the shop, the cardholders themselves come to take them, and it becomes difficult to do black marketing from here. The system has been computerised to stop any wrongdoing on the way. To monitor it in the panchayats, we have formed committees of distinguished locals. When the goods leave the godown, the village members are informed through an sms. They check the goods and make a panchnama. Using this system, we have reduced the leakage from 40 percent to four percent.
What is core PDS, and why is it not being implemented throughout the state?
The core PDS is based on advanced technology. We have distributed smart ration cards instead of the usual ration cards in some big cities and several villages of Mahasamund district. The consumers can use these smart cards to buy their monthly quota from any fps. As soon as the consumer pays his bill, all his information is passed on to the server. Using this technology, the leakages can be reduced to four percent.
According to the PDS law in the state, 35 kg of rice is given to every family, but some families are quite big and they have to buy rice from the market. Also the quality of the government rice is not good.
We are carrying out a new survey, and 10 lakh new ration cards would be distributed. We are segregating the joint families into individual units and giving more than one card. This will reduce the problems of big families. As far as the quality is concerned, the rice here is famous the world over and there is no question of it being substandard. It is supplied by the state Civil Supplies Corporation. We have given them strict instructions to ensure the rice is of good quality.
Around 45 percent of the state population is below the poverty line, then why do you want to bring 90 percent of the population under the ambit of the food subsidy?
Besides those in the BPL (below poverty line) category, we have tried to include other sections of society in this scheme. We have included the homeless, widows, leprosy patients, labourers, small and marginal farmers as well as hostels in the PDS. In the Centre’s scheme, rice is given at Rs 3 per kg and this scheme covers only 67 percent of the population. We are covering 90 per cent of the population and giving rice at Rs 2 per kg. We are giving 35 kg of rice to the families while they are giving 5 kg per person. Our scheme is better than the Central scheme in all respects.
The food subsidy would put an extra burden of Rs 2,500 crore on the state exchequer. To deal with this, taxes will have to be increased on some items.
Yes it’s a big challenge, but we will try to make the Centre bear the full cost of the scheme. The Centre is spending Rs 145,000 crore as subsidy on petroleum, why can’t it bear the cost of food security? This scheme will help in tackling malnutrition in the country and also stop migration from rural areas.
Besides the success of the PDS, there is also talk about development in Chhattisgarh. Then why are the names of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan used for promotion and not yours?
Chhattisgarh still needs a lot of development and right now I’m focussing on that. We will use all our resources for the state’s development. My government stays away from promotion, yet our schemes and development in the state are still getting national and international acclaim. The BJP has senior leaders on the national level. I’m quite comfortable here.