Food Procurement and Distribution – PDS & NFSA, Shanta Kumar Committee, FCI restructuring, Buffer stock, etc.

The Open Market Sale Scheme (OMSS) for wheat and rice


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NA

Mains level: Open Market Sale Scheme (OMSS) and its relevance

Central Idea

  • States across India are exploring alternative avenues for procuring wheat and rice due to the Food Corporation of India’s (FCI) recent quantity restrictions and denial of permission to participate in the Open Market Sale Scheme (OMSS). While the Centre claims that these measures are aimed at curbing inflation and regulating supply, critics argue that they prioritize political interests over the welfare of marginalized beneficiaries.

Relevance of the topic:

*According to a 2020 estimate by The Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, more than 38,000 metric tonnes (MTs) of food grains got damaged in the five years leading upto 2020, including wheat, rice and pulses.

*According to the BCG report, around 2.1 billion tonnes of food grains will be wasted by the time we reach 2030.

*Amidst the challenge of food grain wastage, hunger and food security, the initiatives related to management of food grains becomes significant

What is Open Market Sale Scheme (OMSS)?

  • The OMSS is a program implemented by the Food Corporation of India (FCI) to sell surplus food grains, primarily wheat and rice, from the central pool in the open market
  • The scheme allows the FCI to sell these food grains to traders, bulk consumers, retail chains, and other entities at pre-determined prices through e-auctions.
  • Through e-auctions, interested bidders can purchase specific quantities of food grains. Additionally, states have the option to procure grains through the OMSS, beyond their allocation from the central pool, to distribute among beneficiaries of the National Food Security Act (NFSA)

Key changes in the OMSS implementation

  • Quantity Restrictions: The Centre decided to restrict the quantity that a single bidder can purchase in a single bid under the OMSS. Previously, the maximum quantity allowed per bid was 3,000 metric tonnes (MT). However, the revised OMSS now sets a range of 10 to 100 metric tonnes for the maximum quantity per bid. This change aims to accommodate more small and marginal buyers and promote wider participation in the scheme.
  • Suspension of Sales to State Governments: In a notification sent to the states on June 13, the Centre stopped the sale of rice and wheat from the central pool under the OMSS to state governments. This means that state governments can no longer procure these food grains directly from the FCI through the OMSS. Additionally, private bidders are also disallowed from selling their OMSS supplies to state governments.

Significance of OMSS in India’s food grain management system

  • Surplus Management: The OMSS enables the Food Corporation of India (FCI) to effectively manage surplus food grains, primarily wheat and rice, from the central pool. By selling these surplus grains in the open market, the FCI can prevent wastage and maintain optimal stock levels.
  • Price Stability: The OMSS plays a crucial role in maintaining price stability in the market. By periodically selling surplus grains at pre-determined prices, the scheme helps regulate food grain prices, preventing excessive fluctuations and ensuring affordability for consumers.
  • Market Competition: The OMSS promotes market competition by allowing various entities, including traders, bulk consumers, and retail chains, to participate in e-auctions and purchase food grains. This fosters a more competitive market environment, preventing the concentration of purchasing power in the hands of a few entities and encouraging fair market practices.
  • Additional Procurement Avenue for States: States in India can procure food grains through the OMSS beyond their allocated quantities from the central pool. This provides an additional avenue for states to meet their food grain requirements, particularly for implementing welfare schemes such as the National Food Security Act (NFSA). It allows states to supplement their allocations and ensure the availability of essential food grains for marginalized beneficiaries.
  • Small and Marginal Buyers: The recent revisions in the OMSS implementation, including the reduction in the maximum quantity per bid, aim to accommodate more small and marginal buyers. By encouraging their participation, the scheme aims to promote inclusivity, empower smaller market participants, and prevent monopolies held by bulk buyers. This supports the growth and sustainability of small businesses and helps distribute the benefits of the scheme more evenly.

How states are reacting to the changes?

  • Karnataka: In Karnataka, the Anna Bhagya scheme, which aims to provide rice to marginalized families, was a significant electoral promise of the Congress government. They argue that the changes in the OMSS hinder the implementation of the welfare scheme and are politically motivated.
  • Tamil Nadu: Tamil Nadu has also been affected by the changes in the OMSS. The state government has sought alternative sources to purchase 50,000 tonnes of rice, as the Union government has stopped the supply of rice under the OMSS. The state used to buy rice through the scheme and then subsidize it for ration card holders.
  • Criticism of Centre’s Politics: States like Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, as well as other states, have criticized the Centre for engaging in politics at the expense of marginalized beneficiaries of state welfare schemes. They argue that the restrictions and changes in the OMSS implementation are driven by political considerations rather than prioritizing the welfare of vulnerable sections of society.

How OMSS contributes to food security?

  • Distribution to National Food Security Act (NFSA) Beneficiaries: The OMSS allows states to procure additional food grains beyond their allocated quantities from the central pool for distribution to beneficiaries under the NFSA. This ensures that the eligible population, particularly marginalized sections of society, has access to an adequate supply of essential food grains, such as wheat and rice, at affordable prices.
  • Price Stabilization: By periodically selling surplus food grains through the OMSS, the scheme helps stabilize prices in the market. The availability of surplus stocks from the central pool prevents excessive price fluctuations and ensures that food grains remain affordable for consumers.
  • Market Competition and Inclusivity: The OMSS promotes market competition by allowing various entities, including traders, bulk consumers, and retail chains, to participate in e-auctions and purchase food grains. This diversifies the buyer base and prevents monopolistic practices, fostering fair market competition. Moreover, recent revisions in the OMSS implementation, such as the reduction in the maximum quantity per bid, aim to encourage the participation of small and marginal buyers, promoting inclusivity and empowering smaller market participants.
  • Surplus Management: The OMSS helps manage surplus food grains held by the Food Corporation of India (FCI) in the central pool. By selling these surpluses in the open market, the FCI avoids wastage and ensures efficient utilization of available resources.
  • Additional Procurement Avenues for States: The OMSS provides states with an additional avenue to procure food grains beyond their allocated quantities from the central pool. This helps states meet their food grain requirements for welfare schemes and other initiatives aimed at ensuring food security at the state level.

Challenges faced by OMSS

  • Low buyer demand due to high reserve prices: The OMSS faces a challenge of low demand from buyers, primarily because of the high reserve prices set by the FCI. These reserve prices, which include various costs like procurement, storage, transportation, and handling charges, are often higher than the prevailing market prices.
  • Logistical hurdles affecting timely delivery: Transportation, handling, and quality issues of food grains pose logistical challenges for the OMSS. These challenges can result in delays and impact customer satisfaction. The heavy reliance on railways by the FCI for grain movement can lead to congestion and further exacerbate the logistical problems.
  • Limited impact on market price stabilization: The OMSS has a limited impact on stabilizing market prices as it represents only a small share of the overall food grain supply and demand in the country. The FCI sells only a fraction of its total stocks through the OMSS, while the majority is distributed through the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) and other welfare schemes (OWS).
  • Inadequate addressing of structural issues: The OMSS fails to adequately address the structural problems associated with food grain management, including procurement, distribution, and buffer stocking policies. Reforms in these areas are necessary to ensure food security and fiscal prudence. The excessive procurement by the FCI, beyond the requirements of TPDS and OWS, leads to surplus stocks and high carrying costs.

Way forward: Steps to enhance its effectiveness

  • Stakeholder Consultation: The Centre should engage in meaningful consultations with states, policymakers, experts, and relevant stakeholders to understand the diverse perspectives and concerns related to the OMSS. This will help in developing a more inclusive and comprehensive approach that considers the welfare of marginalized beneficiaries, the interests of states, and the broader macroeconomic considerations.
  • Review and Reconsideration of Changes: The Centre should review and reconsider the recent changes made to the OMSS, taking into account the feedback and concerns raised by states. This could involve revisiting the quantity restrictions and exploring alternative ways to achieve the objectives of curbing inflation, promoting market competition, and ensuring wider participation of small and marginal buyers.
  • Transparency and Accountability: Ensuring transparency in the functioning of the OMSS is crucial. The Centre should provide clear guidelines, transparent processes, and timely information regarding the e-auctions, pricing, and availability of food grains through the scheme.
  • Strengthening State-Level Procurement: Alongside the OMSS, efforts should be made to strengthen state-level procurement mechanisms for food grains. This will enable states to meet their requirements for welfare schemes more effectively and reduce their dependence on central schemes like the OMSS.
  • Integrated Approach to Food Security: Food security is a multi-dimensional issue that requires an integrated approach. The Centre should work in collaboration with states to develop comprehensive strategies that address not only the availability and accessibility of food grains but also factors such as storage, transportation, nutrition, and agricultural productivity.
  • Monitoring and Evaluation: Regular monitoring and evaluation of the OMSS and its impact on food security outcomes are essential. This will help identify any shortcomings, assess the effectiveness of the scheme, and make necessary adjustments to improve its functioning. Data-driven analysis and feedback mechanisms should be put in place to ensure evidence-based decision-making and continuous improvement.


  • The Centre’s recent restrictions on the OMSS have sparked a political controversy, with states like Karnataka and Tamil Nadu accusing the government of prioritizing politics over the welfare of marginalized beneficiaries. As the Centre aims to curb inflation and regulate supply, it must consider the potential impact on state welfare schemes and ensure the availability of essential food grains to those in need.

Also read:

Managing Inflation and Ensuring Food Security in India


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