The Public Distribution System (PDS) was a general scheme under the Government of India which became a target-oriented program in 1972. It is a Centre-sponsored scheme to ensure food security throughout the country. In comparison, Deccan Development Society (DDS) established an alternative PDS in 1994 to cater to the needs of the local poor in a few villages of contemporary Andhra Pradesh.
PDS system provides people with a fixed quantity of rice and wheat. But eating rice and wheat wasn’t a cultural practice for most of the arid, semi-arid and hilly areas. These areas traditionally grew and consumed coarse cereals. The low-cost rice lured people towards it, and small and marginal farmers left their land fallow. This wrong was noticed by the DDS, and the women of Sangham raised this issue regularly in their meetings.
The women, with the help of the Deccan Development Society, formed a draft seeking help from the Ministry of Rural Development. Seeing the merit in the proposal, the ministry decided that the government would support them with an initial investment of ₹2600 per acre. This way, while PDS was destroying the local agricultural practices, DDS-led alternative PDS rejuvenated it. This was a major push towards saving the land, which because of its fallow state, had lost its fertility.
With rice, the population was not accustomed. This had led to many children and women becoming anaemic. With alternative PDS, the traditional crops like millets and Sorghum were regrown and distributed among the poor, thus establishing the nutritional support back. The status of mal-nourishment among people, which was becoming a common trend in the area, could thus be challenged.
The traditional control of women over the fields was also lost with the advent of PDS. This could get corrected as well by the alternative PDS as Dalit women became major stakeholders and decision-makers. This was remarkable as it provided socio-cultural empowerment to these Dalit women, thus paving the way for alternative politics. All the decisions related to who will form the poor and how much grain should be provided were taken centrally in the case of PDS. While in the case of the alternative PDS set up by the women of Sangham, this was decided locally.
PDS needs heavy investment from the government. The majority of expenditure being done on subsidising the agricultural inputs for resource-rich farmers, transportation of the food grains from nodal points to central storehouses and then maintaining the extensive distribution network all over the country. While in the case of the Deccan Development Society-led PDS, locally grown crops were stored therein, in a decentralised fashion. The administration was also taken care of by the local women. In government-led PDS, only 1/7th part of the total expenditure reached the poor, i.e. receiving the food supply. While in the case of alternative PDS, the percentage was 62.5%, i.e. around 2/3rd of the total expenditure.
To conclude, the alternative PDS showed the path to local production, local storage and local distribution system which got recognition from policy planners at all the levels including the UN. This alternative PDS led by the Deccan Development Society has not only shown us a way to alternative politics but also paved the way for sustainable livelihood, poverty reduction, decentralization in all aspects and thus to sustainable development.