Policy Watch No.11

India’s Public Distribution System and the Pandemic – Revisiting Delhi’s Beneficiaries

Never since the founding of the Indian republic have so many millions depended directly on India’s government machineries for sustenance. One reality that the COVID-19 pandemic has driven home is that the welfare state cannot be replaced and needs to be strengthened. In addition to market failures, the inability of markets to operate under extraordinary circumstances – such as the ongoing pandemic – places the onus on governments to emerge as providers of the last resort.

In this interview-based empirical study, O. Grace Ngullie and Arib Ahmad Ansari, Independent Researchers, revisit beneficiaries who were respondents in a previous study by the first author on the Public Distribution System (PDS) in Delhi. (The names of all respondents have been changed to protect confidentiality.) While the earlier study focussed on the comparative benefits of cash transfers vis-à-vis provisioning of ration, the present exploratory study aims to find out the manner in which the PDS has worked for the poor in times of COVID-19 pandemic.

This preliminary inquiry finds that the pre-existing problems with the PDS persist, thereby worsening the woes of the vulnerable who have been promised food security during the pandemic. For instance, there were differences reported in the quantity or rations received and promised, the quality of the food grains, exclusion, and access.

The authors suggest a set of policy recommendations addressing each of the problems. The recommendations include utilising modern and emerging technologies to address supply chain issues, the creation of new cadre for monitoring, and upwardly revising the allocation.

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[Correction: A typographical error in Endnote 9 [PDF version] was corrected on June 27, 2020, in the HTML version of this Policy Watch The corrected Endnote 9 is:
9. Mander, H. et al. 2020. A plan to revive a broken economy, The Hindu, May 14. [https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/a-plan-to-revive-a-broken-economy/article31577261.ece].

Related Resource: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Press Releases by the Government of India [HTML and PDF].
Source: Press Information Bureau, Government of India.

Related Article: Vijay, G. and Gudavarthy, A. 2020. A Pandemic as a Political Reality Check, The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy, April 15.

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