Time to Reform the Food Welfare System in India?
Recently in Trivandrum, Kerala’s capital, the Aam Aadmi Party and SVS the party’s apex Union protested the non-implementation of the “Food Security Act.” The AAP’s State Convener, CR Neelakandan and the Shramik Vikas Sangathan’s National Observer for 12 states, Saroj Sinha participated in the event on October 25, 2016 while also promoting minimum wage reform. The event was led by Melvin Vinod, District Convener of Trivandrum and his team.
SVS Minimum Wage Banner displayed at AAP Food Security Protest in Trivandrum
While it is clear that government run food distribution systems result in waste and corruption, the non-implementation of the Act is also a problem because it makes even more urgent the need for reform.
Most developing nations have food subsidies for the poor that rely on a government run distribution system that is invariably riddled with corruption and waste. They should learn from most of the more developed western nations who have done away with government run distribution of food welfare. Instead they supply benefits in the form of vouchers or cards that can be used at regular stores who are willing to deal with the additional paperwork.
Now that the Modi run, BJP government has the votes to make changes in India, concerned citizens in the Aam Aadmi Party are urging the implantation of the Act. Yet this is also an opportunity for Shramik Vikas Sangathan workers (SVS) and AAP volunteers to become familiar with the Right to Food Act passed by the previous Congress regime and suggest revisions. There is now once again, a chance for the new government to reduce waste and corruption that have historically bled the poorer populations of India.
Food Security is Still Essential: There is no doubt that the Indian population needs food security despite a growing percentage of GDP being spent on food subsidies. In 2012 some .75 percent of GDP was spent on national federal food subsidy programs. Estimates vary but some 1.2 percent of GDP will be spent on this program annually when the Food Security Act is fully implemented. The cost of food security as a percentage of GDP will continue to increase gradually as grain, storage and delivery costs rise.
Key Features of the Legislation: The RTF Act:
– Provides legal guarantees to 50 percent of India’s urban population and 75 percent of the rural population to receive 5 kg of cereals per month (wheat, rice and coarse grains for Rs 5, 3 and Rs. 1 per kg respectively. The poorest of the poor continue to be covered under the “Anthyodhana Anna Yojana” program with eligibility for 35 kgs. of subsidized cereals a month.
– Empowers women by recognizing the oldest woman in each home as the head of the household for the purpose of obtaining ration cards.
– Provides for pregnant and lactating mothers to get nutritious meals and at least Rs 6,000 over six months. It also provides for meals or take home rations to children at risk.
Expenditure estimated for this program does not include similar programs at the state level where states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Chattisgarh have ambitious programs of their own.
The AAP and SVS have been urging a carefully supervised implementation of the Act because India is still home to 25 percent of the world’s hungry population and the tragedy is that even the existing programs for the poor cope with an estimated 40 percent of waste and corruption that the system is riddled with. Experts indicate that the programs developed in Chattisgarh could be studied and possibly emulated in the relevant areas.
When passed, the new act was hailed as the biggest food subsidy program in the world with an estimated 1.3 lakh crores ($25 billion?) spent annually to purchase 62 million tonnes of grain, targeting 67 % of India’s population.
Aspects of the Act that remain matters of concern:
– Regrettably, the Act does not sufficiently involve local bodies like Panchayats at the implementation level even though Panchayat Ward members do have a say in the grievance redressal of the public, when people complain about the quantity and quality of grain being distributed through ration shops within their ward.
– Vast amounts of black market grain swilling around the country tend to dampen open market prices, thereby discouraging future generations of farmers who are already turning away from farming at an alarming rate.
– The new law also has no sunset clause and would be difficult to withdraw later even if and when nutrition is adequate.
Concerned citizens while pressing for the implementation of the Act are advised to hold the new government accountable for improving its implementation of the Act and “modi-fying” it.
Saroj Sinha, National Observer for the Shramik Vikas Sangathan speaks at a Press Conference in Kerala’s Capital, advocating a raise in the minimum wage for Kerala. Minimum wage is also a key aspect of Food Security. Also visible from left are: Pravin J. Philip, SVS Kerala Regional Coordinator (Central), CR Neelakandan, AAP State Convener, and Ashok George, SVS Regional Coordinator, (South)
This article was written in the public interest for concerned Indian citizens. If this issue interests you, feel free to share…
The author, Pravin Joseph Philip is an active member of the Aam Aadmi Party. He hails from Pathanamthitta District and currently serves as a Regional Coordinator for Kerala in the Shramik Vikas Sangathan. The SVS is the apex labour union of the AAP in Kerala. Feel free to send your comments and suggestions on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org