Review by OPHI researcher highlights need to expand the Indian food security safety net

The Indian Public Distribution System (PDS) – a food security safety net programme – should be expanded to include more multidimensionally poor households, a new paper  by OPHI’s Mihika Chatterjee has suggested.

Her research examines the performance of the PDS among 793 households in the district of Koraput, Odisha. The system aims to provide India’s poor with subsidised goods such as wheat, rice, kerosene and sugar.

The findings indicate that the PDS is functioning well in many areas of Koraput, with rice supplied regularly and approximately 69 per cent of women and 70 per cent of men reporting high levels of satisfaction with the scheme overall.

However, the research shows that a substantial proportion of vulnerable people in Koraput are excluded from the PDS, as they are not considered deprived by official measures. More than a third (37%) of multidimensionally poor households do not receive PDS benefits, yet they reported higher levels of food insecurity than those who do, including having to eat small meals and experiencing greater anxiety about running out of food.

Among these households, material deprivation and vulnerability is widespread. Fifty-eight per cent have at least one underweight child, while more than a third (36%) have a mother who is malnourished. More than half (53%) of the excluded households have no assets, including no mobile phone.

Chatterjee notes that these findings support the need to widen coverage of the PDS. She also suggests several other improvements to the programme, including increasing the availability of non-grain items like sugar and kerosene, and making recipients more aware of the benefits they are entitled to.

Read the full paper

An Improved PDS in a ‘Reviving’ State: Food Security in Koraput, Odisha’, by Mihika Chatterjee, was published in the Indian journal ‘Economic & Political Weekly’ on 8 November 2014.