Soft 'target'

PDS' poor politic

Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

-- the terminology used in a relationship is an effective way of understanding mutual relations. When the government draws up a programme, the terms it uses indicate the direction of the scheme. Cracking names of government programmes requires the kind of enthusiasm botanists/zoologists maintain for scientific (read Latin) names. 'Target' is a hunting term steeped in the immediate. Once hit, the 'target' ceases to mean. 'Target' possesses other meanings also, but the hunting reference outweighs them in idiomatic cognition.

And so we have the Targeted Public Distribution System (tpds) to reach foodgrain to the poor at subsidised rates. This replaced the universal public distribution system of yore, purportedly to prevent leakages and to focus on serving those below the poverty line (bpl), as against those above it. A recent report of the Planning Commission shows tdps' failure on several counts. The numbers show the total leakages have increased (in percentage terms, see p 56) since the programme became 'targeted'. Leakages, diversion, corruption of fair price shops -- the story's the same, only magnified. Why bother, one may shrug, when we know this is the way the government functions.

On most other topics, this is the stage where the discussion moves towards that one term that makes the most insurmountable problem look like an edible dessert: public-private partnerships. Here, if anything, the public-private partnership boils down to the 'Fair Price Shops' siphoning the foodgrain to sell it in open market. No private investments to ensure basic minimum food for the poor at affordable rates. That is the responsibility of the government. It will, in all probability, scrap tdps and bring in a new scheme -- perhaps an Extra Super Strong tdps.

Because our ruling class classifies the poor as 'targeted beneficiaries'. The more it tries to aim at the 'target' (often by reducing its size), the greater is the distance by which it misses. That's because it doesn't feel it is reaching out to its constituents. The Planning Commission report gives suggestions on improving the delivery systems. From timely delivery of foodgrain to the shops, to the involvement of local government.

In a scheme like pds, the keyword has to be delivery, not 'target'.

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