It is going to be a political fight between Kerala and the Centre (Central government) for rice. The Centre has drastically cut rice quotas to the State for public distribution. It soon turned into a political fight with the Union Minister for Agriculture and Civil Supplies Sharad Pawar taking umbrage for the absence of representatives of his party in the all-party delegation from Kerala that approached him for more rice. Though Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was initially sympathetic, the equations have now changed with the Left parties withdrawing support to his government.
Politics apart, let us examine the pros and cons of the decision of the Centre to cut quotas. Kerala has not been drawing the allocated quotas for the above poverty line cardholders for years as the APL cardholders had mostly stopped getting their supplies from the public distribution system (ration shops). With increase in price of rice, some have returned to the ration shops. However, current demand is not entirely based on demand from the cardholders. Many ration dealers sell rice in the black market where it fetches higher prices. With increase in price of rice, black market deals have become more lucrative. By demanding large allocations, Kerala government is actually catering to those who divert ration articles. However, it is to be accepted that higher availability of rice whether in the PDS, open market or black market would have the effect of holding the price line.
The Centre had a good reason in limiting allotments when the buffer stocks were running thin. However, the situation has now changed with better procurement this year. The FCI godowns are now flush with grains. The Central government is even planning to auction off rice. So, there is little justification for denying reasonable quotas to the State. After all, statutory procurement of grains from the producers is noted intended for making profits. It should be distributed through the public distribution system itself. As Kerala is a food deficit State, it request for more rice merits consideration, if adequate steps have been taken to prevent its diversion. The special allocation given to the State (10000 tonnes of rice) is inadequate considering the cuts in regular quotas.