The politics of PDS “reforms”


This is a part of a series of articles on the proposal to shift from PDS to coupons or cash transfers. To see the introduction, click here .

Some scholars have pointed out that the motivation to dissolve the PDS comes from the ideological belief that the government should not be engaged in providing public services, and of course the material appeal this has for the rich.  The quest for PDS reform started in the context of India’s liberalization and globalization.  Pushed by multilateral agencies, the PDS was converted into a targeted system in 1997.  The motivation of these reforms was not one of protecting people from hunger – but the zeal to eliminate most public services.  Some of the loudest support for PDS reform today has come from people who have generally shown little concern otherwise for policies to protect people from hunger.  The sudden zeal shown by these enthusiasts for cash transfers and other alternatives to PDS is only bound to give the politically conscious observer the belief that such calls to reform are mainly to undermine the PDS, and not to create a system that works for the poor.

The offer of an alternative can thus be a smokescreen to dismantle what is well established.  I do believe that there are well meaning people who are proposing such reforms.  I guess that they would be well advised to think of creating a strong framework of rights within which coupons or cash transfers can be but one alternative that could be introduced slowly.

Similarly, a lot of push for so-called public-private partnerships comes from large consultancies, and associations of large corporations.  Dismantling the PDS and creating alternate forms of delivery can be a source of profits for many organisations.  One cannot ignore the fact that a lot of political support for reforms is ultimately garnered by such groups whose main motivation is not one of making the system work for the poor.


About Vivek Srinivasan

I work with the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University. Before this, I worked with the Right to Food Campaign and other rights based campaigns in India. To learn more, click here.

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