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.[1]  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).[2]  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.[3]  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.[4]  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 subsidyTable 1

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. Figure 1

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.[5],[6]

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.[7]

Figure 2

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,[8]

The central government introduced cash subsidy to TPDS beneficiaries in September 2015.[9]  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.[10]

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,[11]  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,[12]

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.[13]

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,[14]  As of January 2017, while 100% ration cards had been digitised, the seeding of these cards with Aadhaar was at 73%.14

Figure 3

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.[15]

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.[16]

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.[17]  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.

[1] About World Food Day,

[2] Expenditure Budget, Union Budget 2017-18,

[3] National Food Security Act, 2013,

[4] “Prices, Agriculture and Food Management”, Chapter 5, Economic Survey 2015-16,

[5] The Case for Direct Cash Transfers to the Poor, Economic and Political Weekly, April 2008,

[6] Revival of the Public Distribution System: Evidence and Explanations, The Economic and Political Weekly, November 5, 2011,

[7] ‘Report of the Internal Working Group on Branch Authorisation Policy’, Reserve Bank of India, September 2016,

[8] Working Paper 294, “Leakages from Public Distribution System”, January 2015, ICRIER,

[9] “The Cash Transfer of Food Subsidy Rules, 2015”, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, September 3, 2015,

[10] Report of the High Level Committee on Reorienting the Role and Restructuring of Food Corporation of India, January 2015,

[11] Third Report of the Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution: Demands for Grants 2015-16, Department of Food and Public Distribution,,%20Consumer%20Affairs%20&%20Public%20Distribution/16_Food_Consumer_Affairs_And_Public_Distribution_3.pdf.

[12] Performance Evaluation of Targeted Public Distribution System, Planning Commission of India, March 2005,

[13] 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,

[14] Unstarred Question No. 844, Lok Sabha, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Answered on February 7, 2017,

[15] Annual Report 2016-17, Department of Food & Public Distribution, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution,

[16] 30 Food Subsidy, The Economic and Political Weekly, December 27, 2014,

[17] Unstarred Question No. 2124, Lok Sabha, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Answered on November 29, 2016,

Early this week, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India tabled a report on the finances of Uttar Pradesh for the financial year 2020-21.  A few days prior to that, on May 26, the budget for Uttar Pradesh for 2022-23 was presented, along with which the final audited expenditure and receipt figures for the year 2020-21 were released.  The year 2020-21 presented a two-fold challenge for states – loss in revenue due to impact of COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, and the need for increased expenditure to support affected persons and economic recovery.  CAG noted that Uttar Pradesh’s GSDP grew by 1.05% in 2020-21 as compared to a growth of 6.5% in 2019-20.  The state reported a revenue deficit of Rs 2,367 crore in 2020-21 after reporting revenue surplus for 14 successive years since 2006-07.  Revenue deficit is the excess of revenue expenditure over revenue receipts.  This blog looks at the key trends in the finances of Uttar Pradesh in 2020-21 and certain observations by CAG on fiscal management by the state.

Spending and Deficits in 2020-21

Underspending:  In 2020-21, total spending by the state was 26% less than the budget estimate presented in February 2020.  In sectors such as water supply and sanitation, the actual expenditure was 60% less than the amount budgeted, while in agriculture and allied activities only 53% of the budgeted amount was spent.  CAG observed that in 251 schemes across 57 departments, the state government did not incur any expenditure in 2020-21.  These schemes had a budget provision of at least one crore rupees, and had cumulative allocation of Rs 50,617 crore.  These included schemes such as Pipe Drinking Water Scheme in Bundelkhand/Vindhya and apportionment of pension liabilities.  Moreover, the overall savings due to non-utilisation of funds in 2020-21 was 27.28% of total budget provisions.  CAG observed that the budgetary provisions increased between 2016 and 2021.  However, the utilisation of budget provisions reduced between 2018-19 and 2020-21.

Pattern of spending: CAG observed that in case of 12 departments, more than 50% of the expenditure was incurred in March 2021, the last month of the financial year.  In the civil aviation department, 89% of the total expenditure was incurred in March while this figure was 62% for the social welfare department (welfare of handicapped and backward classes).  CAG noted that maintaining a steady pace of expenditure is a sound practice under public financial management.  However, the Uttar Pradesh Budget Manual has no specific instructions for preventing such bunching of expenditure.  The CAG recommended that the state government can consider issuing guidelines to control the rush of expenditure towards the closing months of the financial year.

Management of deficit and debt: As a measure to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, an Ordinance was promulgated in June 2020 to raise the fiscal deficit limit from 3% of GSDP to 5% of GSDP for the year 2020-21.   Fiscal deficit represents the gap between expenditure and receipts in a year, and this gap is filled with borrowings.   The Uttar Pradesh Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act, 2004 (FRBM Act) passed by Uttar Pradesh Assembly specifies the upper limit for debt and deficits.  The Ordinance thus permitted the state government to borrow more to sustain its budget expenditure.  The fiscal deficit of the state in 2020-21 was 3.20% of GSDP, well below the revised limit. At the same time, the state’s outstanding debt to GSDP in 2020-21 was 32.77% of GSDP, above the target of 32% of GSDP set under the FRBM Act.  Outstanding debt represents accumulation of debt over the years.  

Table 1: Spending by Uttar Pradesh in 2020-21 as compared to Budget Estimates (in Rs crore)


2020-21 BE

2020-21 Actuals

% change from BE to Actuals

Net Receipts (1+2)




1. Revenue Receipts (a+b+c+d)




a. Own Tax Revenue




b. Own Non-Tax Revenue




c. Share in central taxes




d. Grants-in-aid from the Centre




Of which GST compensation grants




2. Non-Debt Capital Receipts




3. Borrowings




Of which GST compensation loan




Net Expenditure (4+5+6)




4. Revenue Expenditure




5. Capital Outlay




6. Loans and Advances




7. Debt Repayment




Revenue Balance




Revenue Balance (as % of GSDP)




Fiscal Deficit




Fiscal Deficit (as % of GSDP)




Note: A negative revenue balance indicates a deficit.  The actual fiscal deficit reported by Uttar Pradesh for 2020-21 in 2022-23 budget was 2.8% of GSDP.  This difference was due to higher GSDP figure reported by the state.  
Sources: Uttar Pradesh Budget Documents of various years; CAG; PRS.

Finances of State Public Sector Undertakings

Public sector undertakings (PSUs) are set up by the government to discharge commercial activities in various sectors.  As on March 31, 2021, there were 115 PSUs in Uttar Pradesh.  CAG analysed the performance of 38 PSUs.   Out of these 38 PSUs, 22 companies earned a profit of Rs 700 crore, while 16 companies posted a loss of Rs 7,411 crore in 2020-21.  Note that both the number of PSUs incurring losses and the quantum of losses has decreased since 2018-19.  In 2018-19, 20 PSUs had reported losses worth Rs 15,219 crore.  

Figure 1: Cumulative losses incurred by Uttar Pradesh PSUs (Rs crore)
 Sources: CAG; PRS.

Losses of power sector PSUs: Three power sector PSUs—Uttar Pradesh Power Corporation Limited, Purvanchal Vidyut Vitran Nigam Limited, and Paschimanchal Vidyut Vitran Nigam Limited—were the top loss incurring PSUs.  These three PSUs accounted for 73% of the total losses of Rs 7,411 crore mentioned above.   Note that as of June 2022, for each unit of power supplied, the revenue realised by UP power distribution companies (discoms) is 27 paise less than cost of supply.  This is better than the gap of 34 paise per unit at the national level.   However, the aggregate technical and commercial losses (AT&C) of the Uttar Pradesh discoms was 27.85%, considerably higher than the national average of 17.19%.  AT&C losses refer to the proportion of power supplied by a discom for which it does not receive any payment.

Off-budget borrowings: CAG also observed that the Uttar Pradesh government resorted to off-budget borrowing through state owned PSUs/authorities.  Off budget borrowings are not accounted in the debt of the state government and are on books of the respective PSUs/authorities, although, debt is serviced by the state government.  As a result, the outstanding debt reported in the budget does not represent the actual debt position of the state.  CAG identified off-budget borrowing worth Rs 1,637 crore.  The CAG recommended that the state government should avoid extra-budget borrowings.  It should also credit all the loans taken by PSUs/authorities on behalf of and serviced by the state government to state government accounts.

Management of Reserve Funds

The Reserve Bank of India manages two reserve funds on the behalf of state governments.   These funds are created to meet the liabilities of state governments.  These funds are: (i) Consolidated Sinking Fund (CSF), and (ii) Guarantee Redemption Fund (GRF).  They are funded by the contributions made by the state governments.  CSF is an amortisation fund which is utilised to meet the repayment obligations of the government.  Amortisation refers to payment of debt through regular instalments.  The interest accumulated in the fund is used for repayment of outstanding liabilities (which is the accumulation of total borrowings at the end of a financial year, including any liabilities on the public account).  

In line with the recommendation of the 12th Finance Commission, Uttar Pradesh created its CSF in March 2020.  The state government may transfer at least 0.5% of its outstanding liabilities at the end of the previous year to the CSF.  CAG observed that in 2020-21, Uttar Pradesh appropriated only Rs 1,000 crore to the CSF against the requirement of Rs 2,454 crore.  CAG recommended that the state government should ensure at least 0.5% of the outstanding liabilities are contributed towards the CSF every year.

GRF is constituted by states to meet obligations related to guarantees.  The state government may extend guarantee on loans taken by its PSUs.  Guarantees are contingent liabilities of the state government, as in case of default by the company, repayment burden will fall on the state government.  GRF can be used to settle guarantees extended by the government with respect to borrowings of state PSUs and other bodies.  The 12th Finance Commission had recommended that states should constitute GRF.  It was to be funded through guarantees fees to meet any sudden discharge of obligated guarantees extended by the states.  CAG noted that Uttar Pradesh government has not constituted GRF.  Moreover, the state has also not fixed any limits for extending guarantees.  

For an analysis of Uttar Pradesh’s 2022-23 budget, please see here.