The United Nations celebrates October 16 as the World Food Day every year, with an aim to spread awareness about eradicating hunger and ensuring food security for all. In this context, we examine the status of food and public distribution in India, and some challenges in ensuring food security for all.
In 2017-18, over Rs 1,50,000 crore, or 7.6% of the government’s total expenditure has been allocated for providing food subsidy under the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS). This allocation is made to the Department of Food and Public Distribution under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs.
Food subsidy has been the largest component of the Department’s expenditure (94% in 2017-18), and has increased six-fold over the past 10 years. This subsidy is used for the implementation of the National Food Security Act, 2013 (NFSA), which provides subsidised food grains (wheat and rice) to 80 crore people in the country. The NFSA seeks to ensure improved nutritional intake for people in the country.3
One of the reasons for the six-fold increase in food subsidy is the non-revision of the price at which food grains are given to beneficiaries since 2002. For example, rice is given to families under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana at Rs 3/Kg since 2002, while the cost of providing this has increased from Rs 11/Kg in 2001-02 to Rs 33/Kg in 2017-18.
Provision of food subsidy
TPDS provides food security to people below the poverty line. Over the years, the expenditure on food subsidy has increased, while the ratio of people below poverty line has reduced. A similar trend can also be seen in the proportion of undernourished persons in India, which reduced from 24% in 1990 to 15% in 2014 (see Table 1). These trends may indicate that the share of people needing subsidised food has declined.
Nutritional balance: The NFSA guarantees food grains i.e. wheat and rice to beneficiaries, to ensure nutritious food intake.3 Over the last two decades, the share of cereals or food grains as a percentage of food consumption has reduced from 13% to 8% in the country, whereas that of milk, eggs, fish and meat has increased (see Figure 1). This indicates a reduced preference for wheat and rice, and a rise in preference towards other protein rich food items.
Methods of providing food subsidy
Food subsidy is provided majorly using two methods. We discuss these in detail below.
TPDS assures beneficiaries that they will receive food grains, and insulates them against price volatility. Food grains are delivered through fair price shops in villages, which are easy to access.,
However, high leakages have been observed in the system, both during transportation and distribution. These include pilferage and errors of inclusion and exclusion from the beneficiary list. In addition, it has also been argued that the distribution of wheat and rice may cause an imbalance in the nutritional intake as discussed earlier.7 Beneficiaries have also reported receiving poor quality food grains as part of the system.
Cash Transfers seek to increase the choices available with a beneficiary, and provide financial assistance. It has been argued that the costs of DBT may be lesser than TPDS, owing to lesser costs incurred on transport and storage. These transfers may also be undertaken electronically.6,7
However, it has also been argued that cash received as part of DBT may be spent on non-food items. Such a system may also expose beneficiaries to inflation. In this regard, one may also consider the low penetration and access to banking in rural areas.
In 2017-18, 52% of the centre’s total subsidy expenditure will be on providing food subsidy under TPDS (see Figure 2). The NFSA states that the centre and states should introduce schemes for cash transfers to beneficiaries. Other experts have also suggested replacing TPDS with a Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) system.4,
The central government introduced cash subsidy to TPDS beneficiaries in September 2015. As of March 2016, this was being implemented on a pilot basis in a few union territories. In 2015, a Committee on Restructuring of Food Corporation of India had also recommended introducing Aadhaar to plug leakages in PDS, and indexing it to inflation. The Committee estimated that a switch to DBT would reduce the food subsidy bill of the government by more than Rs 30,000 crore.
Current challenges in PDS
Leakages in PDS: Leakages refer to food grains not reaching intended beneficiaries. According to 2011 data, leakages in PDS were estimated to be 46.7%.10, Leakages may be of three types: (i) pilferage during transportation of food grains, (ii) diversion at fair price shops to non-beneficiaries, and (iii) exclusion of entitled beneficiaries from the list.6,
In 2016, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) found that states had not completed the process of identifying beneficiaries, and 49% of the beneficiaries were yet to be identified. It also noted that inclusion and exclusion errors had been reported in the beneficiary lists.
In February 2017, the Ministry made it mandatory for beneficiaries under NFSA to use Aadhaar as proof of identification for receiving food grains. Through this, the government aims to remove bogus ration cards, check leakages and ensure better delivery of food grains.10, As of January 2017, while 100% ration cards had been digitised, the seeding of these cards with Aadhaar was at 73%.14
Storage: As of 2016-17, the total storage capacity in the country is 788 lakh tonnes, of which 354 lakh tonnes is with the Food Corporation of India and 424 lakh tonnes is with the state agencies.
The CAG in its performance audit found that the available storage capacity in states was inadequate for the allocated quantity of food grains.13 For example, as of October 2015, of the 233 godowns sanctioned for construction in Maharashtra, only 93 had been completed. It also noted that in four of the last five years, the stock of food grains with the centre had been higher than the storage capacity available with Food Corporation of India.
Quality of food grains: A survey conducted in 2011 had noted that people complained about receiving poor quality food grain which had to be mixed with other grains to be edible.6 There have also been complaints about people receiving food grains containing alien substances such as pebbles. Poor quality of food may impact the willingness of people to buy food from fair price shops, and may have an adverse impact on their health.
The Ministry has stated that while regular surveillance, monitoring, inspection and random sampling of all food items is under-taken by State Food Safety Officers, separate data for food grains distributed under PDS is unavailable. In the absence of data with regard to quality testing results of food grains supplied under PDS, it may be difficult to ascertain whether these food items meet the prescribed quality and safety standards.
 About World Food Day, http://www.fao.org/world-food-day/2017/about/en/.
 Expenditure Budget, Union Budget 2017-18, http://unionbudget.nic.in/ub2017-18/eb/allsbe.pdf.
 National Food Security Act, 2013, http://indiacode.nic.in/acts-in-pdf/202013.pdf.
 “Prices, Agriculture and Food Management”, Chapter 5, Economic Survey 2015-16, http://unionbudget.nic.in/budget2016-2017/es2015-16/echapvol2-05.pdf.
 The Case for Direct Cash Transfers to the Poor, Economic and Political Weekly, April 2008, http://www.epw.in/system/files/pdf/2008_43/15/The_Case_for_Direct_Cash_Transfers_to_the_Poor.pdf.
 Revival of the Public Distribution System: Evidence and Explanations, The Economic and Political Weekly, November 5, 2011,
 ‘Report of the Internal Working Group on Branch Authorisation Policy’, Reserve Bank of India, September 2016, https://rbidocs.rbi.org.in/rdocs/PublicationReport/Pdfs/IWG99F12F147B6E4F8DBEE8CEBB8F09F103.PDF.
 Working Paper 294, “Leakages from Public Distribution System”, January 2015, ICRIER, http://icrier.org/pdf/Working_Paper_294.pdf.
 “The Cash Transfer of Food Subsidy Rules, 2015”, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, September 3, 2015, http://dfpd.nic.in/writereaddata/Portal/News/32_1_cash.pdf.
 Report of the High Level Committee on Reorienting the Role and Restructuring of Food Corporation of India, January 2015, http://www.fci.gov.in/app2/webroot/upload/News/Report%20of%20the%20High%20Level%20Committee%20on%20Reorienting%20the%20Role%20and%20Restructuring%20of%20FCI_English_1.pdf.
 Third Report of the Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution: Demands for Grants 2015-16, Department of Food and Public Distribution, http://18.104.22.168/lsscommittee/Food,%20Consumer%20Affairs%20&%20Public%20Distribution/16_Food_Consumer_Affairs_And_Public_Distribution_3.pdf.
 Performance Evaluation of Targeted Public Distribution System, Planning Commission of India, March 2005, http://planningcommission.nic.in/reports/peoreport/peo/peo_tpds.pdf.
 Audit on the Preparedness for Implementation of National Food Security Act, 2013 for the year ended March, 2015, Report No. 54 of 2015, Comptroller and Auditor General of India, http://cag.gov.in/sites/default/files/audit_report_files/Union_Civil_National_Food_Security_Report_54_of_2015.pdf.
 Unstarred Question No. 844, Lok Sabha, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Answered on February 7, 2017, http://22.214.171.124/loksabhaquestions/annex/11/AU844.pdf.
 Annual Report 2016-17, Department of Food & Public Distribution, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution, http://dfpd.nic.in/writereaddata/images/annual-140217.pdf.
 30 Food Subsidy, The Economic and Political Weekly, December 27, 2014, http://www.epw.in/system/files/pdf/2014_49/52/Food_Subsidy.pdf.
 Unstarred Question No. 2124, Lok Sabha, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Answered on November 29, 2016, http://126.96.36.199/loksabhaquestions/annex/10/AU2124.pdf.
In the last few years, several states have enacted laws to curb cheating in examinations, especially those for recruitment in public service commissions. According to news reports, incidents of cheating and paper leaks have occurred on several occasions in Uttarakhand, including during the panchayat development officer exams in 2016, and the Uttarakhand Subordinate Services Selection Commission exams in 2021. The Uttarakhand Public Service Commission papers were also leaked in January 2023. The most recent cheating incidents led to protests and unrest in Uttarakhand. Following this, on February 11, 2023, the state promulgated an Ordinance to bar and penalise the use of unfair means in public examinations. The Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Bill replacing the Ordinance in March 2023. There have been multiple reports of candidates being arrested and debarred for cheating in public examinations for posts such as forest guard and secretariat guard after the ordinance’s introduction. Similar instances of cheating have also been noted in other states. As per news reports, since 2015, Gujarat has not been able to hold a single recruitment exam without reported paper leaks. In February 2023, the Gujarat Assembly also passed a law to penalise cheating in public examinations. Other states such as Rajasthan (Act passed in 2022), Uttar Pradesh (Act passed in 1998) and Andhra Pradesh (Act passed in 1997) also have similar laws. In this blog, we compare anti-cheating laws across some states (see Table 1), and discuss some issues to consider.
Typical provisions of anti-cheating laws
Anti-cheating laws across states generally contain provisions that penalise the use of unfair means by examinees and other groups in public examinations such as those conducted by state public sector commission examinations and higher secondary education boards. Broadly, unfair means is defined to include the use of unauthorised help and the unauthorised use of written material by candidates. These laws also prohibit individuals responsible for conducting examinations from disclosing any information they acquire in this role. The more recent laws, such as the Gujarat, Uttarakhand, and Rajasthan ones, also include the impersonation of candidates and the leaking of exam papers within the definition of unfair means. Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh prohibit the use of electronic aids. Maximum prison sentences for using such unfair means range from three months in Uttar Pradesh, to seven years in Andhra Pradesh.
Issues to consider
The Gujarat and Uttarakhand anti-cheating Acts have relatively stringent provisions for cheating. The Uttarakhand Act has a fixed 3-year prison sentence for examinees caught cheating or using unfair means (for the first offence). Since the Act does not distinguish between the different types of unfair means used, an examinee could serve a sentence disproportionate to the offence committed. In most other states, the maximum imprisonment term for such offences is three years. Andhra Pradesh has a minimum imprisonment term of three years. However, all these states allow for a range with respect to the penalty, that is, the judge can decide on the imprisonment term (within the specified limits) depending on the manner of cheating and the implications of such cheating. Table 1 below compares the penalties for certain offences across eight states.
The Uttarakhand Act has a provision that debars the examinee from state competitive examinations for two to five years upon the filing of the chargesheet, rather than upon conviction. Thus, an examinee could be deprived of giving the examination even if they were innocent but being prosecuted under the law. This could compromise the presumption of innocence for accused candidates. The Gujarat and Rajasthan laws also debar candidates from sitting in specified examinations for two years, but only upon conviction.
These laws also vary in scope across states. In Uttarakhand and Rajasthan, the laws only apply to competitive examinations for recruitment in a state department (such as a Public Commission). In the other six states examined, these laws also apply to examinations held by educational institutions for granting educational qualifications such as diplomas and degrees. For example, in Gujarat, exams conducted by the Gujarat Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board are also covered under the Gujarat Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2023. The question is whether it is appropriate to have similar punishments for exams in educational institutions and exams for recruitment in government jobs, given the difference in stakes between them.
Sources: The Rajasthan Public Examination (Measures for Prevention of Unfair Means in Recruitment) Act, 2022; the Uttar Pradesh Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 1998; the Chhattisgarh Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2008; the Orissa Conduct of Examinations Act, 1988; the Andhra Pradesh Public Examinations (Prevention of Malpractices and Unfair means) Act, 1997; the Jharkhand Conduct of Examinations Act, 2001, the Uttarakhand Competitive Examination (Measures for Prevention and Prevention of Unfair Means in Recruitment) Act, 2023, the Gujarat Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Methods) Act, 2023; PRS.