Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Power of One

This is one obituary that refuses to leave my mindspace.

It is not often that we see touching, personal tributes to politician who passed away but E. Chandrasekharan Nair seems to have been a very unusual politician indeed. He is being refered to as the driving force behind Kerala's public distribution system which is not just functional (an usual thing in India), but also super efficient in delivering essential provisions (grains, fuel) to those who need it the most.

My own mother is a big fan of ECN. For a citizen who is not below the poverty line (BPL), even she can get 2kg of raw rice, 2kg of chemba (red) rice, 2kg of wheat atta and 0.5L of kerosene - all for just INR 100. "Where else in the world can you walk into a PDS shop and get so much for INR 100?" she asks, "Folks with BPL cards can get foodgrains at INR 1/kg!...even migrant labourers from other states are eligible for this facility!"

In most other states, foodgrains meant for the PDS is regularly siphoned off to private millers who, in turn, package it and sell it as branded stuff. How did one politician manage to fight off the usual lobbies and pressure-groups to put in place a welfare system that actually works?

The key to building an efficient PDS apparantly lies in the government agency that runs it. In this case, ECN was responsible for implementing key reforms as the minister in charge of  Kerala's Department of Food and Civil Supplies, for three long stints (1980-81, 1987-91 and 1996-2001).

Under this department, a public company, Kerala State Civil Supplies Corp Ltd (SupplyCo) runs a vast machinery for efficiently procuring foodgrains directly from the farmers at minimum support prices, of getting the grain processed in contracted mills, and, finally, getting them distributed through 14 district depots, 56 taluk depots and around 1500 retail outlets (Maveli Stores). The sales turnover of this company was nearly INR 4000 crores in 2015-16!


- Obituary (NewsMinute) - http://www.thenewsminute.com/article/ex-kerala-minister-e-chandrasekharan-nair-architect-maveli-stores-passes-away-72372
- Obituary (The Hindu) - http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/e-chandrasekharan-nair-passes-away/article21095877.ece
(2000) - Interview - http://www.frontline.in/static/html/fl1719/17190980.htm
Maveli Stores - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maveli_Stores
SupplyCo, Kerala - http://supplycokerala.com/