Public Distribution System (PDS): Ensuring Food and Economic Security in India

Have you ever wondered how a nation with over 1.3 billion people manages to feed its poor? One of the answers is the Public Distribution System (PDS), a government-sponsored chain of ‘fair price’ shops dispensing food grains and other essential commodities at subsidized rates to people living below the poverty line.

What is the Public Distribution System (PDS)?

The Public Distribution System (PDS) in India is a national food security system, functioning under the aegis of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution. Its primary purpose is to provide staples like rice, wheat, and sugar, as well as kerosene and other essentials, at affordable prices to the less privileged sections of society.


History and Evolution of PDS in India

Before Independence

The roots of the PDS can be traced back to the scarcity of food during World War II. The government of British India introduced rationing in 1943 to ensure an equitable distribution of food and essential items during the war and the subsequent famine.

Post-Independence Developments

After independence, the need to maintain an equitable distribution of essential commodities prompted the Indian government to continue the rationing system, leading to the establishment of the Public Distribution System.

Revamped Public Distribution System

By the late 1980s, the government felt the need to expand the PDS due to the deepening poverty crisis. This led to the birth of the Revamped Public Distribution System (RPDS) in 1992, which aimed at improving the availability of essential commodities to the rural populace.

Targeted Public Distribution System

In 1997, the Indian government introduced the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) to focus on the ‘poor’ and ‘very poor’ sections of society. This system aimed to serve the population below the poverty line with special subsidies.

The Importance of PDS

Food Security

The PDS plays a critical role in maintaining food security in India by ensuring the availability of essential food grains to the economically disadvantaged sections of society.


Economic Security

Through subsidized rates, PDS provides a sort of economic security to the poor, reducing their expenditure on food and freeing up resources for other necessities.

The Components of PDS

Food Grains

Under the PDS, beneficiaries receive wheat, rice, and coarse grains at highly subsidized prices.

Other Essential Commodities

Apart from food grains, the PDS also provides other essential commodities like sugar and kerosene.

Fair Price Shops: The Backbone of PDS

Role of Fair Price Shops

Fair Price Shops act as the retail outlets under the PDS where beneficiaries can collect their allotted goods.

Fair Price Shops and The Poor

These shops are instrumental in reaching out to the underprivileged, acting as a lifeline to the poor in remote and rural areas.

Challenges in the PDS


One of the significant challenges in the functioning of the PDS has been corruption at various levels, leading to leakage of commodities.

Inefficient Delivery

Sometimes, the commodities do not reach the beneficiaries due to inefficiencies in the distribution system.

Quality Issues

There have also been instances where the quality of food grains distributed under the PDS has come under scrutiny.

Steps Taken by the Government to Improve PDS

Computerization of PDS

The government has taken steps to computerize the PDS to prevent leakages and ensure transparency.

Direct Benefit Transfer

The Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) scheme allows the subsidy amount to be directly deposited into the beneficiaries’ bank accounts, reducing corruption.

Strengthening the Supply Chain

Efforts are being made to strengthen the supply chain to ensure timely delivery of quality commodities to the beneficiaries.

The Impact of PDS on Poverty

Empirical Evidence

Several studies suggest that PDS has played a significant role in reducing poverty in India.

PDS and The Below Poverty Line Population

The system has been instrumental in providing food security to the below poverty line (BPL) population, thereby acting as a safety net for the vulnerable.


The Public Distribution System is a robust mechanism that the Indian government has put in place to ensure food and economic security for the country’s poorer segments. Despite the challenges, it continues to serve as a lifeline for millions of Indians living below the poverty line. However, constant monitoring and effective reforms are necessary to make this system more efficient and impactful.


1: What is the Public Distribution System (PDS)?

A1: The Public Distribution System (PDS) is a government-sponsored system in India that provides essential commodities at subsidized rates to underprivileged sections of society. The primary purpose of PDS is to ensure food and economic security for these segments, particularly those living below the poverty line.

2: Who are the beneficiaries of the PDS?

A2: The beneficiaries of the PDS are primarily people living below the poverty line in India. These include economically disadvantaged sections of society who are unable to afford essential commodities at market prices. The system provides them with staple food grains, sugar, and kerosene at highly subsidized rates.

3: What commodities are distributed under the PDS?

A3: The PDS distributes essential commodities including, but not limited to, staple food grains like rice, wheat, and coarse grains. Other commodities such as sugar and kerosene are also provided at subsidized prices to ensure the beneficiaries’ essential needs are met.

4: What are the challenges faced by the PDS in India?

A4: The PDS in India faces several challenges, including corruption, inefficiencies in distribution, and issues with the quality of the commodities. Corruption often leads to leakage of commodities, while inefficient delivery mechanisms can result in the intended beneficiaries not receiving their allocated goods. There have also been instances where the quality of food grains supplied under the PDS has been questioned.

5: How has the government improved the PDS?

A5: The government has undertaken several measures to improve the PDS. This includes computerization of the system to increase transparency and prevent leakages, introduction of the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) scheme where the subsidy amount is directly deposited into the beneficiaries’ bank accounts, and strengthening the supply chain to ensure timely delivery of quality commodities to the beneficiaries.