Public Distribution System (PDS)

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Unintended consequences of PDS reforms

Many States have initiated PDS ‘reforms’ that are hurting millions.

Biometric mix-ups – Jharkhand Case study

Aadhaar-based biometric authentication was made compulsory for PDS users recently. This move backfired as it resulted in:

  • Large exclusions especially among vulnerable groups such as widows and elderly
  • Considerable inconvenience faced due to connectivity and biometric failures
  • Revival of corruption: PDS entitlements meant for those who failed the biometric test was siphoned off

This was worsened by mass-cancellation of ration cards not linked with Aadhaar by the state govt (in mid-2017). There was collateral damage as:

  • Many families were unable to link their Aadhaar despite trying to do so.
    • eg. – family of Santoshi Kumari, an 11-year old Dalit girl who died of hunger Sept 2017


Planned Transition to DBT

  • Initial hiccups / teething problems
    • Enormous time is wasted in the process of obtaining cash from banks to buy ration (at market rates)
    • Daily wage earners suffer the most due to this.
  • It’s a greater nightmare for people with mobility problems,
    • like the elderly or disabled
  • Moreover, handling of cash due to DBT goes against the push for less-cash economy


The downside of Top-down approach

Growing centralisation and technocracy have raised concerns in the field:

  • Aadhaar-less ration cards are cancelled without notice.
  • Pensions are discontinued without the victims being told what the problem is.
  • Job cards are cancelled just to meet the “100% seeding” targets.
  • Elderly persons with rough fingerprints are deprived of food rations without compensation.



  • New technologies will have teething problems.
  • But, effective grievance redressal and information sharing mechanisms must be put in place to minimise hardships.