What is Public Distribution System?

The Public Distribution System (PDS) is an Indian food security system established under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution. It evolved as a system to manage food scarcity among the underprivileged through the distribution of food grains at a reasonable price.

The PDS is operated jointly by the Central and State governments. The 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 evenly distribute the surplus and deficit of food grain-producing states.

Objectives of the PDS

The objectives of the PDS:

  • 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 PDS

  • The PDS is a system of distribution of essential goods. These goods are distributed through fair-price shops (FPS) operated by private dealers and owned by the government.
  • Rice, wheat, and sugar are food grains that are distributed. Other than these food grains, 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 the PDS In India

The PDS of India was introduced during World War II and was seen as a wartime rationing measure. Before 1960, the PDS was generally dependent on the imports and exports of 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 PDS was a general entitlement scheme for all the consumers without any target.

Revamped PDS

In June 1992, the Revamped PDS (RPDS) was launched to strengthen and streamline the PDS. 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 and 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.


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

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

Antodaya Anna Yojana

In December 2000, Antyodaya Anna Yojna was launched to make TPDS focused and target poor families.

The Antyodaya Anna Yojna was a step in making TPDS successful.The Antyodaya Anna Yojna was launched to reduce the hunger of the BPL population.

A National Sample Survey exercise revealed that approximately 5% of the total pollution in the country sleeps without having two square meals.

In 2013, the National Food Security Act 2013 was enacted. The act relies on the existing TPDS to deliver the food grains as a legal entitlement to poor households. The act marks the shift by making the right to food a justifiable right. Antodaya Anna Yojna has successfully identified one-crore poor families.

Importance of the PDS

The PDS has the following importance:

  • The PDS aids in ensuring the food and nutritional security of the nation.
  • The PDS helps stabilise the food price and make the food available to the poor at an affordable price.
  • The PDS 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.
  • The PDS redistributes 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 provide 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 FPS, 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 PDS

The working of the PDS involves the following steps:

  • Identification of poor and needy people
  • Procurement of food grains
  • Issuing ration cards to poor people
  • Storage
  • Allocation of food grain to states
  • Transportation of food grains to all FPSs
  • FPSs
  • Consumer
  • Final disbursal of food distribution

Issues with PDS in India

  • Identification of beneficiaries: Studies revealed that targeting mechanisms such as the TDPS are prone to large inclusion and exclusion errors. Thus, the beneficiaries entitled to get food grains are deprived while ineligible people receive undue benefits.

    Expert estimations were set up in 2009, stating 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, considerable quantities of food grains are pocketed by officials and handlers in TPDS. In an evaluation of TDPS, the planning commission found a 36% leakage of PDS of rice and wheat at all levels.

  • Procurement issues: Open-ended procurement, which denotes that all incoming gains are accepted even if the buffer stock is filled, creates a shortage in the open market.
  • Storage issue: The CAG audit of performance revealed a severe shortfall in the storage capacity of the government. Considering the increasing procurement and incidents of rotting food grains, the lack of covered storage is a concern in the PDS.

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

  • Environmental Issues: Attaining self-sufficiency has been overemphasised, and a surplus of food grains that are water-intensive is environmentally unsustainable.

    In states such as Haryana and Punjab, environmental stress includes degradation of 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 year in the period 2002-08 due to rice cultivation.

PDS reforms

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

    Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has released a study stating that using Aadhar with TDPS can eliminate duplicate or fake beneficiaries and ensure accurate identification.

  • Technology-based reforms of TDPS implemented by states: Certain states had implemented computerisation and other technology-based reforms to TDPS. The Wadhwa Committee appointed by the Supreme court revealed technology reforms can 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 and verification of beneficiary data. It also makes online storing of beneficiary data, offtake of foodgrains possible. The digitalisation of ration cards is implemented in Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, and Gujarat.

  • Computerised allocation to FPS: Computerised FPS location, declaration of stock balance, web-based truck challans allows for quick and easy tracking of transactions. Computerised allocation is implemented in Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, and Delhi.

  • Smart cards in place of ration cards: Smart cards store data such as name, biometrics, address, BPL/APL category, and monthly entitlement of beneficiaries; smart cards use secure electronic devices to store beneficiary data to prevent counterfeiting. Smart cards are used in Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, and Orissa.

  • Use of GPS technology: Global Positioning System (GPS) technology tracks the movement of trucks carrying food grains from state depots to FPS. It is implemented in Chhattisgarh and Tamil Nadu.

  • SMS-based monitoring: The SMS-based monitoring system allows self-monitoring by citizens so that they can send/receive SMS alerts during the dispatch and arrival of TPDS commodities.

  • Use of web-based citizens portal: Such portals provide a machinery for grievance redressal. These machineries include toll-free numbers for call centres to register complaints or suggestions.


The PDS is the common food subsidy mechanism by which food is 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 PDS is the key component of the government for providing nutrition and food security. PDS is supplemental and is not meant to make the entire requirement of the commodity available. The motive of the PDS is to provide basic food to everyone.


When was targeted PDS launched?

The targeted PDS was launched in June 1997.

What is PDS?

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

What is the objective of the PDS?

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 PDS related to?

The PDS is related to the distribution of food grains.

Consumer Law