Very few people know that much before the World Bank suggested cash transfer to BPL families instead of foodgrain subsidy, it was Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who mooted this idea.
Corruption and malpractices were rampant in PDS in Bihar. Ration cardholders were often turned away from fair price shops and large quantities of grain and kerosene meant for the poor were sold in the open market.
With this backdrop, the Nitish regime decided to launch coupon scheme for subsidised foodgrains and kerosene to 1.45 crore BPL families. With coupons in hand, beneficiaries could go to another fair price shop if they were turned away at one. “With the launch of coupon system, corruption has come down to a large extent, though it remains to be wiped out,” Shyam Rajak, Minister for Food and Civil Supplies in Bihar told Deccan Herald.
To a specific query on the WB suggestion about cash subsidy, Rajak said, “We are very much in favour of cash subsidy as the problems (in running the PDS) are one too many. First, as per the central government figures, there are only 65 lakh BPL families in Bihar, while according to our estimate it’s around 1.45 crore. So the surplus 80 lakh people are taken care by us. Secondly, there are storage problems. Rotting foodgrains and measurement problem are further hindrances.”
But is not there a risk that cash subsidy may be used in buying liquor or lead to domestic violence if the money is given to the woman head of the family? “If we start thinking on these lines, then it will be difficult to implement any scheme. We are planning to open a joint account of male and female beneficiaries, and the amount will be regularly transferred to it,” Rajak cleared the air.