Choice Based Reforms in Delivering Food Security: Analysis of An Intervention from the Indian Public Distribution System (PDS)
32 Pages Posted: 12 Nov 2019
Date Written: November 1, 2019
Achieving ‘Zero Hunger’ by 2030 is a global priority. Government-managed food security programs are a major instrument for achieving this goal, particularly among developing countries. Despite the vast amount of resources spent on these programs, they suffer from several inefficiencies largely attributable to the monopoly of agents involved in last-mile delivery. Governments have attempted to address these inefficiencies by either privatizing these programs or replacing them with cash transfers which allow beneficiaries to use cash as they deem most appropriate. However, evidence on the relative effectiveness of these approaches is mixed. In this paper, we describe an alternate approach called portability which has been introduced in the Indian Public Distribution System (PDS). Portability offers beneficiaries the choice of when and where they can avail of their food entitlements while the government controls what and how much. We use detailed and large-scale program data from one Indian state to analyze the uptake of portability among beneficiaries and identify its underlying drivers. We find that a sizeable fraction (~28%) of beneficiaries utilize this choice despite its limited form. Primary factors influencing the uptake are the number of agents a beneficiary has access to and the number of days in a month an agent is open to distributing food entitlements. We find that usage levels among the vulnerable populations such as the rural, the poor, the elderly and the socially disadvantaged, to be ~24%, ~29%, ~24% and ~16% lesser in comparison to their non-vulnerable counterparts respectively.
Keywords: Portability, Public Distribution System, Cash Vs In-Kind transfers, food security programs, choice in public services
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