Antiquated census data: an impediment for effective reach of PDS By Simran Bais
Over 10 crore people have been excluded from the Public Distribution System because outdated 2011 census data is being used to calculate State-wise National Food Security Act (NFSA) coverage, according to economists Jean Dreze and Reetika Khera.
1. Under the NFSA, the PDS is supposed to cover 75% of the population in rural areas and 50% of the population in urban areas, which works out to 67% of the total population, using the rural-urban population ratio in 2011.
2. India’s population was about 121 crore in 2011 and so PDS covered approximately 80 crore people.
3. When the NFSA came into effect in 2013, State-wise ratios were worked out for rural and urban areas, using National Sample Survey data, in such a manner that everyone below a given national “per-capita expenditure benchmark” is covered, meaning that PDS coverage should be higher in poorer States.
4. However, applying the 67% ratio to a projected population of 137 crore for 2020, PDS coverage today should be around 92 crore.
5. The economists highlight that, taking into account growing urbanisation, the shortfall would be around 10 crore people who have slipped through the cracks.
1. Many State governments are reluctant to issue new ration cards beyond the numbers that will be provided for by the Central quota, making it difficult to reduce exclusion errors in the PDS.
2. About seven lakh applications for ration cards are pending in Jharkhand, because the State government stopped issuing new ration cards several years ago to avoid exceeding the numbers provided for by the Central government
3. The biggest gaps are in Uttar Pradesh, where 2.8 crore people may have been left out, and Bihar, which would have had almost 1.8 crore people excluded from the NFSA.
4. With the 2021 census process being delayed due to the COVID-19 crisis, any proposed revision of PDS coverage using that data could now take several years.
The Centre’s calculation of the actual number of people to be covered in each State has remained frozen. The numbers should be updated using projected population figures, allowing State governments to issue new ration cards over time.