'The existing system should not be destroyed'

Print edition : October 18, 1997

Interview with E. Chandrasekharan Nair, Kerala's Food Minister.

Kerala's Food Minister E. Chandrasekharan Nair says that the public distribution system as it exists today in Kerala must continue and that the "Targeted PDS should be implemented, if at all, only as an additional programme." Excerpts from an interview he gave R. Krishnakumar:

What is Kerala's objection to the TPDS?

Kerala is a chronically food deficit State. The bulk of our requirement comes from outside the State. This situation had existed for years. For example, in 1964, the problem became very serious and there were food riots in Kerala. Pandit Nehru intervened and said the Centre should introduce a kind of rationing system and that the requirements of the State would be met by the Centre. This undertaking was reiterated by several other Central Ministers. There is thus a Central commitment on which the food security of the State depends.

The Centre wants subsidy to be given to the weaker sections under the public distribution system. But 10 kg, or even 15 kg, a month is not at all sufficient for anybody. So for Kerala, statutory rationing should continue. We cannot compromise on this, and the Centre should continue to bear the responsibility.

Are you saying the TPDS should be scrapped?

Kerala's stand is: take any decision to help the weaker sections. But then there has to be an assurance that the Centre will procure more and give the State its requirement for continuing its public distribution system as it is. In other words, the system as it exists today must continue and the TPDS should be implemented, if at all, only as an additional programme.

E. Chandrasekharan Nair-C. RATHEESH KUMAR

But will any Government be able to afford it?

Money is not the factor. They say Rs.6,000 crores is the additional commitment for the TPDS now. If it is increased to 15 kg, there will be an additional commitment of Rs.1,250 crores. The Central Government is making a commitment of over Rs.18,000 crores for enhancing the salaries of its employees. For the millions of half-starved, is Rs.6,000 crores such a big task?

The TPDS guidelines say that what is provided now for families not below the poverty line is only "transitory allocation." Will the State Government be ready to bear the additional burden of sustaining Kerala's PDS if the Centre backs out?

It will never be. The State will be able to bear it if the Centre foregoes its right to taxation. The elastic taxation rules are taken up by the Government of India. Even in sales tax it has made some inroads. It should find ways for resources for this essential task, by ferreting out black money, taxing the rich who are getting richer...

Given the fact of an efficient second-tier of public distribution system also in the State, should not there be some sort of targeting of the mainline PDS towards the poor?

Whatever you do should not be at the cost of the general PDS. You should not, in the name of helping the poor, destroy an existing system, one that caters to all and has helped arrest price rise so effectively. Kerala has proved time and again that an efficient PDS can control prices, and one of the main things that a government should do is not to allow prices to shoot up. You should not come up with fantastic and curious ideas and destroy a system that is a boon for all the people.

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