Public Distribution System (PDS) UPSC Notes

The public distribution system is introduced by the government of India to ensure food security and the welfare of the poor. It was established under the ministry of consumer affairs, food and public distribution.

Both the centre and the state share the process of PDS. However, the Central Government takes over the collection, storage, transportation, and allocation process, whereas the state government controls the transportation and distribution process.

Distribution is done through the fair price shops where the commodities are made available for the needy. The main purpose of introducing the public distribution system was to help the people below the poverty line and ensure food security across the nation.

The public distribution system is an important topic for the UPSC examination. Being informed about this topic helps you score a good mark in the prelims examination. UPSC aspirants preparing for exams can get detailed notes on the Public Distribution System topic in the PDF. So, download the PDF from the below-mentioned link.

History of Public distribution system

Going through history, the origin of the public distribution system that is in practice today can be traced back to the colonial period. During World War II, a rationing system was introduced by the British. It was established in January 1940 and is governed by the Ministry of Food. The major cause of the introduction of rationing was the Bengal famine. The system was introduced to ensure a fair share of food at times of scarcity.

After gaining independence, the scheme was implemented in one way or another and included in the planned economic development of 1951. The commodities distributed were majorly imported goods in the early years of the post-independence period.

Later, in the 1960s, the system was revived as India faced an acute food shortage. Almost 2353 starved to death. To enhance domestic procurement, storage, and distribution of food grains, the government established the Agricultural Price Commission and Food Corporation of India.

The period of the mid-1970s saw an increased rate of poverty across the country; thus there was a threat of food security. To address these issues, the government came up with several programs. In 1970, the PDS was created as an entitlement programme for Indian citizens. It was in the 1970s that the universal food scheme was made into a targeted food distribution program for the poor. Its main objective was to make food grains accessible to the poor in hilly and inaccessible areas.

By June 1997, the public distribution system was re-launched as the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS). The Ministry of Consumer Affairs controlled it. The public distribution system evolved to this form to put more focus on providing aid to the poor. TPDS handles issues such as identifying and distributing food grains to the poor, especially those below the poverty line. Further, TPDS divided the beneficiaries into two major categories: households below and above the poverty line.

In order to enhance the Public distribution system that was in practice, the Antyodaya Anna Yojana was launched in December 2000. Its target was the people below the poverty line. It aimed at reducing hunger among the poorest section of people. This programme was introduced as a result of a national sample survey which gave a shocking report. According to the report, almost 5% of the total population in India sleeps without two square meals a day.

In September 2013 The National Food Security act was enacted by the Parliament. The act ensured food and nutritional security at an affordable price. This was largely dependent on the TPDS. 75% of rural and 50% of urban populations have been categorised as eligible households for food security under this act.

Role of Public distribution system

The centre and state share responsibilities in the functions of the public distribution system. The centre involves in the process of procurement, storage and transport whereas the state distributes the commodities through ration shops.

The stock of food grain- wheat and rice is procured by the Food Corporation of India (FCI). The FCI buys wheat and rice from domestic farmers who have produced a surplus amount of food grain. They are paid an amount which is called the Minimum Support price (MSP).

 The government announces the MSP before the sowing season to provide the farmers with an increment to increase production. This stock of food grain procured by the government is called Buffer stock. It is meant to be distributed among the poor at a lower price called issue price. Also, this helps to resolve the problem of food shortage at difficult times.

Thereby the purchased food are stored in granaries. Later it is distributed through rations run by the government. These shops are referred to as fair price shops as essential commodities are made for poor people at a lower price. Commodities like wheat, rice, sugar, and kerosene oil are sold here. It is sold at a price lower than the market price. There are around 5.5 lakh ration shops across the country.

Two kinds of National Food Security Act ration cards are there, namely:

  1. Antyodaya Anna Yojana
  2. The state government issues it to the people who earn unstable income.
  3. The people who belong to this category are – unemployed, women and the elderly.
  4. These card holders are eligible to buy 35 kg of food grain every month per family
  5. They get commodities at a rate of

Rice  – ₹ 3/ kg

Wheat – ₹ 2/ kg

Coarse grains – ₹ 1/ kg

  • Priority household
  •  This category consist of families which doesn’t come under the Antyodaya card.
  • This card is categorised by the state government and allotted to families based on several criteria.
  • These card holders are eligible to buy 5kg every month.
  • The price of commodities is the same as that for the Antyodaya card.

Before the enactment of the National Food Security act, the government issued three types of ration cards based on the Targeted public distribution system. Those cards were:

  •  AY card – for the poorest and the elderly
  • BPL card – for people categorised by the government as below the poverty line.

They can receive 10- 20 kg of food grain per month at half the price of the market cost.

  • APL card – for people categorised by the government as the above poverty line

They can receive 10- 20 kg of food grain per month at 100% of the market price.

Antyodaya Anna Yojana

Antyodaya Anna Yojana is one of the important public distribution system schemes introduced by the government. It was implemented in December 2000 by the former Union Food and Civil Supplies Minister, N Sri Vishnu. The main objective of this scheme was to ensure food security in India. The poorest among the below poverty line people were the target. Under this scheme food grains and other essential commodities were made available to the poorest section of the people at an lower price. It was first implemented in the state of Rajasthan.

Under this scheme, the state and central government identified and categorised the beneficiaries. The state rural development department conducted a below-poverty line survey by which the target families were identified.

A different set of cards were provided to the people based on their economic status. People who are recognised as below the poverty line were issued with the Antyodaya Ration card or the public distribution card with which they get to buy essentials at a price lower than the market price.

The families who were all eligible received 20 kg of food grain at a price of ₹2/kg for wheat and ₹3/ kg of rice. The amount was increased to 25- 30 kg by April 2000. AAY has covered over 2 crore families.

Importance of public distribution system

The public distribution system has been of great help not only to the poor but also towards the upliftment of the entire nation.

The government, under Public Distribution System, offers the farmers an enhanced MSP, providing them with a proper income and further encouraging them in the production of crops.

On the other hand, the weaker section of society is being identified and provided with essentials at a low, affordable price. This has worked towards the reduction of poverty in India.

The storage system makes sure that there isn’t any way for food shortages even at times of natural calamities.

On the whole, food and nutritional security is ensured.

Negative aspects of the PDS

  • Numerous issues are recorded concerning the process of identifying the beneficiary. In many cases, most of the scheme is enjoyed by the ineligible, whereas the eligible isn’t benefited. There have been many inclusion and exclusion errors made in making the list of the beneficiaries.
  • Black marketing and hoarding are two major drawbacks that render the PDS system ineffective. Both during transportation and distribution, there is a wastage of food grains.
  • A lot of grain is wasted during the storage process. The major cause of such a loss is the poor storage system. Grains are often left open, which sometimes gets spoiled by pests, and during the monsoon, it gets drenched further and starts sprouting, turning inedible.
  • The Minimum Support price offered by the government has motivated a large number of farmers to grow rice and wheat. As a result, the farmers in the regions of Punjab, Haryana, and Andhra Pradesh were involved in the production of rice and wheat instead of the production of coarse grains. This leads to a lack of crop diversification, which further results in affecting the fertility of the soil.
  • Among all of these issues, environmental concerns are the most pressing. The enhanced MSP and the emphasis on self-efficiency have resulted in two major issues—food grain wastage and the draining of groundwater level.

The enhanced production level, especially in agricultural states like Punjab, has resulted in the fall of groundwater.

Green revolution also being a contributing factor resulted in higher production of the crop. However, a huge amount of these food grains was wasted.

Public Distribution System UPSC

The public distribution system is an important topic for the UPSC examination. This article on the Public distribution system provides information about how the program works, it’s importance, limitations, advantages etc. The topic is crucial for UPSC Prelims, Mains and Interview. UPSC Aspirants need to cover the details of this topic as per the syllabus and has to revise regularly for excellence in the exam.

Public Distribution System UPSC Prelims Sample Question:

  1. In which year the Public Distribution System get re-launched as  Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS)?
    1. 1980
    1. 1999
    1. 1982
    1. 1997

          Answer: d


What is the main function of the public distribution system?

The public distribution system consists of a chain of government-sponsored shops involved in distributing basic food and other commodities for the poor section of the society at low prices. It supplies commodities like rice, sugar, wheat, kerosene etc.

What is the purpose of public distribution system?

The public distribution system is one of the important Government policies for the management of food. The system ensures that poor people who are below the poverty line get access to access to food at an affordable price. In addition, it ensures national food security and nutritional security. Also, it stabilises the open market price of food grains. Thus it has been exercised as a means to manage scarcity.

What are the limitations of the public distribution system?

A pest infestation, higher storage cost, poor quality, higher food stock than required, and instances of hunger is prevalent despite the overflowing grannies, diversion of food grains to the open market, corruption and wastage of the commodities. Moreover, it is criticised for having limited benefits for the poor because many people living in rural areas depend more on the open market to buy most commodities. Also, due to improper management, needy people are excluded, which again results in the wastage of PDS commodities.

What is a Targeted public distribution system?

A targeted public distribution system is an enhanced form of the public distribution system. It performs the same role as that of PDS with extra concern over the people below the poverty line.

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