The recent NSSO survey results of the PDS and other sources of household consumption, done in with over a lakh households in 7428 villages and 5263 blocks across the country shows an increased dependence of households on the PDS. Some of the salient points in the survey are
a) Rice purchase under PDS had increased to 23.5% in rural areas ( compared to 13% in 2004-05) and to 18% in urban areas (compared to 11% in 2004-05)
b) Wheat / Aatta purchase had increased to 14.6% in rural areas ( compared to 7.3% in 2004-05) and to 9% in urban areas (compared to 3.8% in 2004-05)
c) Sugar purchase had increased to 14.7 % and 10.3% in rural and urban areas ( compared to 10.3% and 6.6% respectively in 2004-05)
And 39% of rural households and 20.5% of urban households depend on the PDS. While some of us would possibly become happy and think that the figures show an increase in the efficiency of the PDS, the results are disturbing considering that , this dependance is because,
a) Survey results show a reduction in levels of employment. The labour force fell from 496.4 M in 2005 to 487.6 M in 2011. Of the employable population, 9.8 % is unemployed, clearly indicating that growth is not leading to increased employment.
b) Food prices have grown manifold in the last few years. Rice price had increased from about 12,890 per MT in 04-05 to 32,320 per MT now ( reaching a peak of about 42,500 per MT in 2008), for a 10 year period the increase is around 222 %. Sugar prices have gone up by around 177%.
These can then only mean that they are signs of growing distress at the lower strata of the population. Possible reasons why we have not seen any major upheaval till now could be the combination of the MNREGS and the PD System. But these cannot be long term solutions. A major rethink on the structure of the economic growth model is needed, with a clear focus on making it truly inclusive - and unless that is firmly in place, any move to cut down subsidies would result in major social upheavals. The doubt is whether, given their firm western schooling, people at the helm have the willingness and capability to come out with economic models for growth that suits this country and its citizens who have become more dependent on subsidies for survival.