Perturbed by a TOI report in September 2007 on PDS diversion to the tune of Rs 31,500 crore in the last three years, the Union government has commissioned two new studies to investigate leakages in the public distribution system across the country.

At the same time, not too keen to accept the news report and yet unable to say that it is incorrect, the department of food and civil supplies has denied access to relevant files on PDS diversion under the Right to Information Act, claiming "the matter is still under examination at the appropriate level."

This despite the fact that under the RTI Act only information on matters that are under the consideration of the council of ministers in the cabinet can be withheld from disclosure till a decision is taken.
Reluctant to share any information that may hit its "aam aadmi" image, the government has also denied information on two highly damaging reports that the Planning Commission and ORG-MARG had conducted in 2005. Its justification for denial of access to the relevant files is that the fresh studies commissioned this year are ongoing so it does not wish to share data on studies that got over in 2005!

Sources told TOI that the matter is being taken up seriously as even UPA chief and Congress president Sonia Gandhi has written to the government inquiring about it in wake of the news report.

While the government had commissioned the report that showed high percentages of diversion of rice and wheat meant for the poor across the country, it has so far shied away from putting a monetary loss to the exchequer because of the PDS scam.

As a reaction to the news report which put a figure to the stolen grain, the government has instead defended itself claiming the figures calculated by TOI were too old to hold true.

This attempt to wriggle out of its piquant position comes despite the fact that the government has shared the same figures with the parliamentary standing committee in 2006-07 as the only authoritative available data.

The two new studies, which the government hopes will 'reduce' the figures for PDS leakage, will be carried out concurrently by NCAER and IIPA. The studies will be carried out in 26 states.

The two organizations have been asked to randomly sample 200 cardholders in one selected block within five sample districts in each state. The information is to be collected on a monthly basis and the final report will be submitted to the government in nine months.
In the terms of reference, the government has admitted that diversion is mainly occurring in the Above Poverty Line category and therefore asked the consultants to also cover APL ration cardholders under the study.

NEW DELHI: 15 Nov 2007
(Nitin Sethi,TNN)