Bengal won't follow the Narendra Modi regime's directive to introduce cashless transaction to the Public Distribution System.
The state's food and supplies department recently received a notification from the central Department of Food and Public Distribution - this notification has gone out to all states - asking it to opt for e-payment in the PDS.
The Mamata Banerjee government, though, has decided against it, arguing that the state's ration card holders are mostly those living below the poverty line, or just above it, and a vast majority of them do not have credit or debit cards or even bank accounts.
Joytipriyo Mullick, Bengal's food and supplies minister said, "We will
oppose the move because a comprehensive plan must be drafted by the Centre before asking us to introduce e-payment in the PDS."
According to data collected by the state government, around a lakh people avail of the PDS in Bengal. On an average, a PDS shop covers a population of 2,000 and meets 10-15% of an individual's food requirement.
Given this situation, a senior official in the food and supplies department argued, introducing cashless payment in the PDS will collapse the entire system.
Also, the official pointed out, switching to cashless payment will require overhauling the entire system, starting with opening bank accounts for all beneficiaries and linking them.
The distribution of food from Fair Price Shops is already affected due to the cash crunch and, as per an estimate by the food and supplies department, the purchasing power of beneficiaries will decline by another 20% over the next month.
"We agree with the state government. There is a need for the Centre to overhaul the entire PDS before introducing e-payment," said Biswambhar Basu, general secretary of the All India Fair Price Shop Dealers Association.