After vaulting to the second position in terms of public distribution management across India in a year, Tripura is now marching towards extended public distribution system (PDS) services and has plans to distribute cooking oil, detergent powder, exercise books etc through fair price shops.
The PDS strengthening initiative has instantly got traction in Tripura since 67 per cent of the state’s 37 lakh population are ‘poor’ and they view subsidised food products as a major relief from inflation.
Demands for extended public distribution benefits started since the erstwhile CPI(M)-led Left Front regime as they demanded inclusion of 14 daily necessities in the list of subsidised commodities available in fair price shops. But the project never took flight as the Center didn’t approve funds, according to the Left party.
The initiative to reboot public distribution started taking shape in February, when the incumbent BJP-IPFT government launched a scheme for distributing one kg ‘masoor dal’ (lentil pulses) to each ration card holder at Rs. 40. The rate was subsidised by half of the market price.
Meanwhile, the government is procuring paddy from farmers at Minimum Support Price (MSP) to cut down on its dependence on rice imports to save money on PDS.
The latest in the line of PDS strengthening was re-introduction of subsidised sugar supplies for all ration beneficiaries through 1809 fair price shops, even as the central government pulled the plug of sugar subsidy two years back.
In 2017, the Narendra Modi-led NDA government cancelled prevalent sugar subsidies of Rs. 18.50 per Kg for PDS beneficiaries barring Antodaya Annapurna Yojana (AAY) card holders, who are arguably the poorest among the poor.
As per data from the food department, as many as 1.9 lakh PDS beneficiaries in Tripura come from the AAY segment while the total bulk of ration card holders is 9.11 lakh, nearly 9 times the AAY figure.
Speaking at a public event on the re-introduction of sugar subsidies in Agartala this afternoon, Tripura Food and Civil Supplies Minister Manoj Kanti Deb said his government had hinted re-introducing sugar subsidies for all PDS consumers four months ago and has lived upto its promises.
Deb, who comes from a family of farmers, said simple subsidies go a long way in the lives of common men. He also announced that his government is contemplating to introduce a host of other daily necessities in public distribution system in the coming days which will start with mustard oil.
The services would extend to include other unlisted daily necessities like detergent powder, soaps, exercise books etc. in the list of subsidised commodities sold at fair price shops at a later stage, he said. However, these commodities would only be available at 100 ration shops in Agartala.
As per the new PDS rules, 9 lakh plus ration card holders of Tripura can purchase one kg sugar at Rs. 23 every month from respective fair price shops. It will come with a subsidy which will cost the state exchequer Rs. 17.80 crores per year.
On the scheme to reboot PDS supplies, Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb said his government saved Rs. 63 crores last year by eliminating 62,000 fake ration cards.
“Rs. 63 crores was lost every year in Tripura due to fake PDS consumers. We have put a plug in the hole. Now we have introduced lentil subsidies, reintroduced sugar subsidies. If this money is saved, we shall surely be able to introduce cooking oil and other benefits in PDS”, Chief Minister Deb said.
As per the new statistics, Tripura ranks second across the country, only after Andhra Pradesh, in terms of Integrated Management of Public Distribution System (IMPDS), a new public distribution mechanism put in place in 2018.
The state earlier ranked fifth in PDS distribution after Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and Maharashtra. However, with digitised integrated PDS management system, it has made its mark and is now ranked second in terms of PDS management this year. The small Northeastern state is also a member of a five-state apex national body to discuss and formulate policies on public distribution.
The boost in PDS has found traction among a large number of ration shop consumers who had previously veered away from the government supplies. Shibu Das, a slum dweller in the outskirts of Agartala city, told indianexpress.com that PDS supplies look promising in Tripura in its current form.
“We used to heavily depend on ration supplies. But there were frequent unavailability of commodities due to scams and other supply chain problems. We are now getting pulses, sugar at low rate in ration shops. If the government gives us some more daily necessities, our plight shall be hugely compensated”, Das said.
The response is similar among the middle class and upper middle class people, who come under the Above Poverty Level (APL) category.
“Ration shops supplies were mostly of low quality all these years. Assured commodities were unavailable and there were reports of scams. This new tempo of PDS service looks promising. We shall start collecting things from ration shops again”, Samarendra Chandra Deb, a retired government servant from Agartala told this correspondent.
Ranajit Ghosh, a fair price shop dealer at Joynagar area of Agartala, said the renewed PDS supplies are a good step. People from his area have been enquiring him about sugar supplies for quite some time but new sugar stocks haven’t yet come to his ration shop, Ghosh said.
With a clear intent of further strengthening public distribution, Tripura seems to have made a mark in public subsidizing of daily necessities, even as the central government keeps struggling to maintain its subsidies.