Sreelatha Menon talks to K V Thomas, Union minister for food and public distribution, on direct cash transfer and PDS. Edited excerpt:
PDS cash transfer pilots are beginning in April. Do you think the systems would be in place by that time?
We are proposing pilots in six Union Territories from April. By then, 90 per cent of ration card holders would have bank accounts.
Which of the UTs would give cash in place of foodgrain and which would give cash as refund of subsidies?
If you are a BPL card holder, you get rice for Rs 5 a kg, while the economic price is Rs 25. In your account, we put Rs 40. You can now take Rs 20 and buy a kg. This would be recorded by the computer, which will pass on the information to the central server. Next month, the card holder can take another Rs 20 and buy another kg of rice. If he takes the money from the bank and does not go to the ration shop and buy the rice, then his name would be deleted from the list of beneficiaries and cash will not be transferred to his account in future.
What if the beneficiary is sick or old and can’t take the grain every month?
Those are exceptions. The pilots will identify such problems and find solutions.
Will all UTs be covered? Why were they selected?
Yes. They were selected because they were small and it is easier to monitor them.
What would you do to prevent the kind of delays in payment seen in Kotkasim (Alwar district, Rajasthan) during cash transfer of subsidies for kerosene?
We will ensure 90 per cent of the people have bank accounts. The money would be transferred directly to the accounts of beneficiaries and would not need any intervention by anyone else.
Would Aadhaar (the unique IDs) be a must for getting cash transfer of subsidies for food and LPG?
One should have either (an) Aadhar or NPR (National Population Register number) or anything reliable, as an identity card. In Kerala, they have photo ID cards.
The Chhattisgah government has passed a Food security Bill, much ahead of the Centre. What do you think about it?
It is good and similar to ours. We want all states to come out with such laws. That is our objective.