Column: Will Modi ‘waste’ his mandate?

Apr 16 2014, 03:07 IST
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SummaryEven in the BJP’s Chhattisgarh, the costs of running the PDS outweigh the benefits—Aadhaar is the obvious answer

The first nail in Aadhaar’s coffin, it has to be said, was driven in by none other than Nandan Nilekani. The day the father of the UIDAI’s Aadhaar decided not to be a technocrat anymore, and chose to become a

Congressman, he gave Aadhaar a distinct political flavour. It was now officially a Congress project. To that extent, when senior BJP leaders talk of junking Aadhaar when—and if—they come to power, you can’t really blame them. Except, the BJP is going to continue several other Congress projects—the Food Security Act and the MGNREGA, to name just two—so there is no reason to single this one out. More important, the BJP leaders who have lashed out at Aadhaar don’t carry the burden of running the government; Narendra Modi does, and Aadhaar is the only tool that offers him the kind of help he needs to balance his budget.

The BJP’s response to the issue of rising subsidies—from 1.4% of GDP in the NDA years to 2.3% in UPA-2—has been that the best possible practices from all over the country will be incorporated into the PDS, for instance. The point is that this is nowhere near enough. The annual losses will still run into over a lakh crore rupees, a level of waste that a Narendra Modi can ill afford, were he to become prime minister.

A look at even the data for Chhattisgarh, one of the country’s best examples in terms of how to run the PDS by using technology, makes this clear—the state uses GPS trackers on ration shop trucks to keep tabs on them, SMSs to individual ration shop consumers on the grain being dispatched with details of when it will arrive at the shops, and so on.

At an overall level, NSS data for Chhattisgarh suggests that around 30% of people’s overall consumption of rice in 2011 was met from ration shops—this was a much lower 11.2% in 2004, making it obvious the systems put in place by chief minister Raman Singh are clearly working. But more than the general populace, it is important to see how the poor are faring. The improvement here is even greater. Just 18.2% of the rice needs of the poor were met through the PDS system in 2004—that is, the poor got 2 kg of rice per capita from the PDS in 2004, of their total consumption of 11kg. In 2011, however, this figure had

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