What is Public Distribution System?

The Public Distribution System is an Indian food security system established under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution. It evolved as a system of management that manages scarcity through the distribution of food grains at a reasonable price.

The Public Distribution Systems are operated jointly by the Central and State governments. Central Government primarily deals with the buffer stock and controls the external and internal trade in food grains.

Through its procurement activity, the Central Government tries to make even the differences between surplus and deficit of food grain-producing states.

Objectives of the Public Distribution System

The PDS tends:

  • To protect the low-income group by giving guarantees to them by supplying a certain minimum quantity of food grain at affordable goods.
  • To ensure equitable distribution.
  • To control the price of the essential commodity in the open market.

Features of the Public Distribution System

  • PDS is a system of distribution of essential goods. These goods are distributed through fair-price shops (FPS), and the shops are operated by private dealers and owned by the government.
  • Rice, wheat, and sugar are the food grains that are distributed. Other than these, items like kerosene and edible oil are distributed.
  • The working of PDS did not hamper the functioning of the free market.
  • The required amount of food is acquired by the government by procurement through import or buffer stock.
  • The purpose of the PDS is to offer essential commodities at a minimum price.

Evolution of Public Distribution System (PDS) In India

The Public Distribution System of India got introduced during the Second World War and was seen as a wartime rationing measure. Before 1960 the PDS was generally dependent on the imports and exports of the food grains. In 1960 the system was expanded to respond to the food shortage.

The government set up the Agriculture Prices Commission and Food Corporation of India to improve the domestic procurement and storage of food and grains for grain distribution to the public.

By 1970 the PDS evolved into a universal scheme of subsidised food distribution. Till 1992, the Public Distribution System was a general entitlement scheme for all the consumers without any target.

Revamped Public Distribution System

In June 1992, the Revamped Public Distribution System (RPDS) got launched. The RPDS aims to strengthen and streamline the Public Distribution System. The RPDS also improved its reach in the far-flung, hilly, remote, and inaccessible areas, where a substantial section of the underprivileged classes lived.

The system covered 1775 blocks. It covered Specific Programmes such as the Drought Prone Area Programme (DPAP), Integrated Tribal Development Projects (ITDP), and Desert Development Programme(DDP). These programs were implemented in Designated Hill areas and identified in consultation with the State Government.

Targeted Public Distribution System

The Indian Government launched the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) in 1997 to focus on the poor. Under the TPDS, beneficiaries were divided into two categories based on the poverty line. One was the household below the poverty line (BPL), and the other was the household above the poverty line(APL).

The TPDS made it necessary for the states to implement arrangements to identify the poor, deliver foodgrains and distribute it in a transparent and accountable manner at the Fair Price Shops. The scheme got introduced to benefit about six crore, low-income families.

Antodaya Anna Yojana

In December 2000, Antyodaya Anna Yojna was launched to make TPDS more focused and targeted toward the poor family.

The Antyodaya Anna Yojna was a step in making the aim of TPDS successful. Hence, the aim of Antyodaya Anna Yojna also became to reduce the hunger of the BPL population.

A National Sample Survey exercise pointed out that about 5% of the total pollution in the country sleeps without the two square meals.

In 2013 the National Food Security Act 2013 got enacted. The Act relies mainly on the existing TPDS to deliver the food grains as a legal entitlement to poor households. It marks the shift by making the right to food a justifiable right. Antodaya Anna Yojna has involved the identification of one-crore poor families.

Importance of PDS

Following are the importance of the Public Distribution System:

  • It aids in ensuring the food and nutritional security of the nation.
  • It helps stabilise the food price and make the food available to the poor at an affordable price.
  • It maintains the Buffer Stock of Foodgrain in the warehouse so that the flow of the food remains active even during the less agricultural food production.
  • It helps in redistributing grains by supplying food from surplus regions to the country of deficient areas.
  • The minimum support price and the procurement have contributed to increasing food grain production.

Functioning of PDS

The State and the Central government are responsible for providing food and grains to the identified beneficiaries. The Central Government procures food grain from the farmers at a minimum support price.

The Central government also sells it to the states at Central issue prices and is also responsible for transporting the grains to a godown in each state.

The States bear the responsibility of transporting the food grain from these godowns to the fair price shop, and the beneficiary buys the food grains at a lower price.

The states subsidise the price of food grains before selling them to the beneficiary.

Working on Public Distribution System

The working of the Public Distribution System involves steps to be followed. The steps include:

  • Identification of poor and needy
  • Procurement of Food Grains
  • Issue of Ration Cards to the poor people
  • Storage
  • Allocation of the food grain to states
  • Transportation of food grains to all fair price shops
  • Fair Price Shops
  • Consumer
  • Final Disposal of Food distribution

Issues associated with PDS in India

  • Identification of beneficiaries: Studies show that targeting mechanisms such as the TDPS are prone to large inclusion and exclusion errors. It means that the beneficiaries entitled to get food grains are devoid while the ineligible keep has undue benefits.

    The expert estimations were set up in 2009, saying that PDS suffers from around 61% error of exclusion and 25% inclusion of beneficiaries. It means there is misclassification of the non-poor as poor and vice versa.

  • Leakage of food grains: (Black Marketing by FPS owners + Transportation leakages)

    During the transportation to and from ration shops into the open market, a large leakage of food grains is done in TPDS. The planning commission found in an evaluation of TDPS that there is a 36% leakage of PDS rice and wheat at all Indian levels.

  • Issue of Procurement: Open-ended procurement, which in other words, means that all the incoming gains are accepted even if the buffer stock is filled, creating a shortage in the open market.
  • The storage issue: The CAG performance audit revealed a serious shortfall in the government’s storage capacity. Considering the increasing procurement and incidents regarding the rotting food grains, the lack of enough covered storage is bound to raise an issue of concern.

    The minimum support price (MSP) encouraged the farmers to use the land for rice and wheat instead of producing coarse grains consumed by the poor, which discourages crop diversification.

  • Environmental Issues: There has been an over-emphasis on attaining self-sufficiency, and a surplus of food grains, that are water-intensive is environmentally unsustainable.

    In states such as Haryana and Punjab, the procuring states, environmental stress includes degrading soil and water conditions due to the overuse of fertilisers and rapid groundwater depletion.

    The water table in the north-west of India went down by 33 cm per the year 2002-08 due to rice cultivation.

Public Distribution System reforms

  • Role of Aadhar: The identification of beneficiaries and the problem of inclusion and exclusion errors can get addressed by integrating Aadhar with TDPS.

    Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has released a study that states that using Aadhar with TDPS would help in eliminating duplicate or fake beneficiaries and make the identification more accurate.

  • Technology-based reforms of TDPS implemented by states: Certain states had implemented computerisation and other technology-based reforms to TDPS; it was founded by the Wadhwa Committee appointed by the Supreme court. Technology reforms can help plug leakages of food grains during TDPS.
  • Technology-based reforms implemented by states and their benefits:

  • Digitisation of ration cards: Digitisation of ration cards allows for online entry & verification of beneficiary data. It also makes online storing of beneficiary data, offtake of foodgrains etc., possible. The digitalisation of ration cards is implemented in Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka & Gujarat.
  • Computerised allocation to FPS: It helped computerise FPS location, declaration of stock balance, web-based truck challans etc. It also allows for quick and easy tracking of transactions. It is implemented in Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi etc.
  • smart cards in place of ration cards: The smart cards stores data such as name, biometrics, address, BPL/APL category and monthly entitlement of beneficiaries; smart cards use secure electronic devices to store beneficiary data which prevents counterfeiting. Smart cards are implemented in Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa etc.
  • Use of GPS technology: Global Positioning System (GPS) technology tracks the movement of trucks carrying food grains from state depots to FPS. It gets implemented in Chhatisgarh & Tamil Nadu.
  • SMS based monitoring: The SMS based monitoring system allows self-monitoring by citizens so that they can send/receive SMS alerts during dispatch and arrival of TPDS commodities.
  • Use of web-based citizens portal: Publicises grievance redressal machinery, such as the toll-free number for call centres to register complaints or suggestions.


The Public Distribution System is the common food subsidy mechanism by which the food gets distributed to the targeted group of people. However, the targeted group of people are generally below the poverty line. In coordination with the state government, the Central Government distributes the food grains at low rates.

The Public Distribution System is the key component of government for providing nutrition and food security. PDS is supplemental and is not meant to make the entire requirement of the commodity available. But the motive is to provide the basic food facility to everyone.


When was Targeted Public Distribution System launched?

The Targeted Public Distribution System got launched in June 1997.

What is PDS?

PDS is a system where the poorer sections of society can procure food from government-regulated shops.

What is the objective of the Public Distribution System?

The objective of PDS is to ensure food security and poverty alleviation by making essential commodities available along with the food grains at an affordable price at the consumer's doorstep.

What is the Public Distribution System related to?

The Public Distribution System is related to the Distribution of Food Grains.

About Author

Anshita Surana, born in the year 1999 in Guwahati, Assam and brought up in Hanumangarh, Rajasthan, where I completed my elementary and secondary education from the CBSE board.

Currently, Pursuing B.B.A.LL.B(H) from K. R. Mangalam University, Gurugram.

Consumer Law