The Department of Food and Public Distribution ensures the remunerative rates for the farmers and supply of food grains through the Public Distribution System (PDS). They also implement the national policy for farm price support, operations, procurement, storage, preservation, inter-state movement and distribution operations. The Department of Consumer Affairs was made a separate department under the ministry as it was considered necessary to have a separate department to give a fillip to the nascent consumer movement in the country.
C.R. Chaudhary, Minister of State (MoS) for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution spoke to BE’s Madhu Raina on the issue of PDS and consumer affairs.
Q. Domestic sugar production would be exceeding consumption in the current crushing season. How is the government planning to extend incentives to sugar mills to export the excess sugar?
A. During the current sugar season (2017-18), sugar production is estimated to be more than 272 lakh MT as against the estimated consumption requirement of 250 lakh MT. In anticipation of surplus sugar production during the current sugar season 2017-18, sugar prices in the domestic market have shown a declining trend affecting the realisation on sale of sugar. To promote export of excess sugar from the country, the government has recently removed customs duty on export of sugar.
With a view to arresting the downward trend in sugar prices and thereby improving the liquidity position of sugar mills enabling them to clear cane dues of the farmers, the government has recently taken the following measures:
(i) Increased import duty on sugar from 50% to 100%.
(ii) Imposed stock holding limit on sugar mills for two months.
(iii) Removed customs duty on export of sugar.
Q. There have been complaints of delay in release of the food grains quota. What are the steps being taken to ensure timely distribution of food grains and other items?
A. As per the extant norms, the state government’s administrations are required to ensure the lifting of food grains from FCI depots by the last day of the month preceding the allocation month. Under National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013, the receipt of food grains by the beneficiary in time is a legal entitlement and therefore it is imperative that the states lift the food grains within the validity period and ensure its timely distribution to the targeted beneficiary. Further, the states have been given the option for advance lifting and distribution up to six months ration in one go to the beneficiaries.
There have been a few instances of delay in lifting of food grains within the validity period and advisories have been sent to the 18 states namely Assam, Bihar, Haryana, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Sikkim, Telangana, Arunachal Pradesh, Delhi, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Maharashtra, Mizoram, Nagaland, Odisha, Tripura and West Bengal.
Q. What is the action plan to further strengthen the PDS with the purpose of providing cheaper food products to the marginalised?
A. For effective implementation of the Public Distribution System (PDS), the government has implemented a scheme on ‘End-to-end Computerization of TPDS Operations’. The scheme comprises digitisation of ration cards and other databases, online allocation, computerization of supply chain management, setting up of transparency portal and grievance redressal mechanisms. Rice, wheat and coarse grains are being provided to the beneficiaries at the rate of `3, Rs 2 and Rs 1 per kg respectively as prescribed under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) through 5.27 lakh Fair Price Shops (FPSs) operating across the country. The scheme facilitates rightful targeting of the beneficiaries. A new central scheme ‘Integrated Management of Public Distribution System (IM-PDS)’ has been approved for implementation during 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 with the objective of integrating the PDS system of states with the central system, introduction of National Portability, and National level de-duplication of ration cards.
Instructions have been issued to states and Food Corporation of India (FCI) to ensure supply of good quality food grains under PDS. Therefore, as and when complaints of poor quality food grains are received by the government from individuals and organisations as well as through press reports, they are sent to respective state governments for inquiry and appropriate action. An offence committed in violation of the provisions of TPDS (C) Order, 2015 is liable for penal action under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955. Thus, the order empowers the state governments to take punitive action in case of contravention of relevant provisions of these orders.
Q. What is the status of digitisation of Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) in order to plug the leakages in the existing ration card system?
A. In order to plug the leakages and bring about greater efficiency and transparency in the Public Distribution System, the government is implementing a scheme on ‘End to End computerisation of TPDS Operations’. The scheme comprises digitisation of ration cards, online allocation, computerisation of supply chain management, etc. As reported by states, digitization of all 23.2 crore ration cards having more than 80 crore beneficiaries has been completed in all states.
Q. What are the steps being taken to create awareness on various schemes and programmes being implemented by the Ministry?
A. The government carries out a multi-media “Jago Grahak Jago” campaign on Pan India basis covering rural and urban areas through print, electronic, outdoor, social media, etc. Grants-in-aid are also released to states/UT governments for creating consumer awareness in their regional languages. To further ensure that the campaign reaches rural and backward areas, the department has been participating in rural fairs. For the next financial year 2018-19, the allocation of funds is `70 crore. The department also carries out joint campaigns with other departments.
Q. What is the mechanism put in place to check misleading advertisements that are rapidly growing in print and electronic media?
A. To handle complaints relating to misleading advertisements the Department of Consumer Affairs has launched a portal “Grievance against Misleading Advertisements (GAMA)”. From March, 2015 till date a total of 6,586 complaints relating to misleading advertisements have been lodged in the GAMA portal. The task of processing the complaints received through the portal has been assigned to the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) through an MoU. ASCI process the complaints as per its code. Where the complaints are upheld, advertisers are asked to modify or withdraw the misleading advertisements. In case of non-compliance of the orders of ASCI, the complaints are referred to the regulators concerned for taking further action.
Regarding the complaints relating to print media, Press Council of India (PCI), a statutory autonomous organisation under this department has the power to adjudicate the complaints received by them, under Norms of Journalistic Conduct, 2010 emanated from Press Council Act, 1978. As regards complaints relating to electronic media, advertisements telecast on TV channels are required to adhere to the Advertising Code prescribed under the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 and Rules framed thereunder.
Q. What are the reasons of the piling up of a number of cases with the consumer forums and steps taken in the matter?
A: The reason for pendency of cases in the consumer forum is mainly due to vacancy of President and members. The central government has been asking the state governments to take advance action for filling up of vacancies so that no consumer forum remains non-functional due to vacancy of President and members. In addition, various steps are being taken by the National Commission and State Commissions for speedy disposal of consumer cases, such as holding of Circuit Bench sittings, holding of Lok Adalats, conducting the sittings by the National Commission in summer vacation, constituting Single Member Benches and bunching of matters of a similar nature by the National Commission for speedy disposal of cases. To enable the consumer forum to function effectively, the central government has been providing financial assistance to the state governments for strengthening infrastructure of the consumer forum and also providing computer hardware, software and technical manpower to computerize the functioning of the consumer forum.
Q. What are the measures taken to improve the functioning of consumer forums and speedy disposal of cases?
A. The following are the steps taken to fast track cases in consumer forums:
(i) Conference of the Presidents of the state commissions and secretaries’ in-charge, consumer affairs of the state governments to evaluate the functioning of the consumer forum in the country is held for the effective implementation of the objects of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.
(ii) The National Commission also holds circuit bench sittings as per the provisions of Section 22 C of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, for rendering speedy justice at the doorsteps of the consumers of that particular state.
(iii) Orientation training programme for the Presidents and Members of the district forum are conducted under the supervision of the National Commission.
(iv) Some of the state commissions and district forums are holding Lok Adalats for speedy disposal of the cases.
(v) National Commission is also conducting sittings during summer vacation (i.e., in the month of June).
(vi) The National Commission has also constituted single member bench for speedy disposal of cases.
(vii) Matters of the same nature are being bunched together and disposed of.