The number of beneficiaries receiving foodgrains under the Public Distribution System (PDS) through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) has reached a record high of around 71 crore so far in the current fiscal, according to data available at the DBT portal. This has not surprised the experts, but they have their own concerns.

Under the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), the government allocates foodgrains (wheat and rice) as per the National Food Security Act, 2013, in case of households covered under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana. Foodgrains are provided at uniform subsidised prices of ₹3/2/1 per kg for rice/wheat/coarse grains, respectively. Since the Covid pandemic broke, additional foodgrains (5 kg/person) are being provided free of cost.

The government has identified about 81.3 crore beneficiaries (62.5 crore rural and 18.8 crore urban) under the National Food Security Programme (NFPS). Among these beneficiaries, about 70 crore are classified as members of priority households who are entitled to 5 kg foodgrains per person per month. There is also an option of receiving subsidy amount in cash in lieu of foodgrains

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Not a surprise

Anil K Sood, Professor and Co-Founder of Hyderabad-based IASCC (Institute for Advanced Studies in Complex Choices), is not surprised with the higher number of PDS beneficiaries. The pandemic has not only resulted in a fall in income for urban and rural households but has also resulted in an increase in healthcare expenditure for them, he said adding

“We would, therefore, expect the households to avail themselves of whatever little support is available from the government. It definitely does not bode well for future growth, if we were to read it as an indication of household expectations about their economic future,” he said.

Manisha A Mehrotra, Associate Professor, Department of Economics, Banaras Hindu University, said the DBT scheme has been introduced to overcome the deficiencies of the PDS for those who were not getting benefits because they had to pass through the various intermediaries who caused leakages and delays. In recent years it has recorded very high transfers to the marginalised section which has led to a reduction of poverty and availability of cash during pandemic. “I find some truth in opinion expressed by many economists that the implementation of DBT is in limited number, if we go by Aadhaar enabled accounts that have received subsidies. Low accessibility to banking service and low level of awareness of the scheme are major hindrances,” she said.

“Since the government has chosen to provide financial stimulus and not economic stimulus, it is expected that the stimulus will not benefit the poor and low-income families. Low-income and poor families would, therefore, have to lower their cost of living by availing themselves of benefits under programmes like PDS, particularly when their incomes are not expected to grow,” Sood added.

As on date, a total of 311 schemes under 54 Ministries are covered under this scheme. Of these, seven scheme groups — Subsidy for LPG Cylinder (PAHAL), Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP), Scholarship Scheme, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana – Gramin (PMAYG), Public Distribution System (PDS) and Fertiliers — are the important ones. The remaining are clubbed under ‘Others’. These include schemes such as Livestock Health and Diseases Control, Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin, Atal Pension Yojana, Varishtha Pension Bima Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Vaya Vandana Yojana, Deen Dayal Upadhyay Grameen Kaushalya Yojna, Khelo India, Project Tiger, and Project Elephant.

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