Food ministry asked to design transparent online mechanism for sugar distribution
The food ministry has been asked to put in place a transparent online mechanism for sugar distribution before seeking Cabinet approval for supplying the sweetener to the poor at a subsidised rate.
A senior food ministry official told ET, “Proposal for giving 1 kg subsidised sugar to poor households was placed in the first cabinet meeting held within 24 hours of cabinet formation, but it was sent back, asking the food ministry to come out with a clear-cut transparent distribution system.”
The proposal to supply subsidised sugar— a promise made by the BJP in its poll manifesto — will benefit 178.9 million poor households in the country or 810 million people under the National Food Security Act (NFSA). The distribution mechanism could be similar to the existing one for sale of subsidised foodgrain under the public distribution system (PDS), the government has suggested.
According to the official, the proposal is likely to be cleared at the next Cabinet meeting once there is more clarity on the distribution system. In 2017, the government had briefly scrapped supply of subsidised sugar to poor households under PDS, but soon restored distribution of 1 kg sugar a month, but only to 250 million ‘poorest of the poor’ ‘Antyodaya’ families at Rs 13.50 a kg, bearing a subsidy of Rs 18.50 a kg under PDS.
For distribution of foodgrain, the PDS operation is fully computerised. It comprises digitisation of ration cards/beneficiary and other databases, online allocation, computerisation of supply-chain management and setting up of transparency portal and grievance redressal mechanisms.
According to the official, the state government raises an online indent with the Food Corporation India, which does the electronic allocation and then tracks the movement of food grain.
Every ration shop has an electronic device with the database of the beneficiaries. “It helps in the authentication of beneficiaries and electronic capture of transactions, reducing chances of any leakage,” the official said. In 2017-18, the government had released sugar subsidy of Rs 300 crore, which came down to Rs 125 crore in 2018-19 as on Feb 11, 2019 for 14 states which are implementing this scheme.
“Now the scheme is being extended to all BPL families, which are getting subsidised food grains through ration shops,” the official said.