Neglecting poor

Neglecting poor

There is a glimmer of hope for India’s poor and malnutritioned. If the draft national food security bill is passed, around 68 per cent of the country’s population is expected to be guaranteed access to subsidised food. Broadly categorising beneficiaries into priority and general households, the bill promises at least 7 kg of grain per month per individual of a priority household at a rate not exceeding Re 1 a kg for millets, Rs 2 for wheat and Rs 3 for rice.

An individual in a general household will receive 4 kg of grain at a price not exceeding 50 per cent of the minimum support price of rice, wheat and millets. The food ministry must be applauded for rejecting the recommendations of the Rangarajan Committee, which had suggested legal guarantee of subsidised grain only to ‘really needy households’. This would have meant exclusion of a sizeable number of the poor from food support.

The draft food bill is more large-hearted. It ensures legal entitlement to subsidised grains to a larger proportion of the population. Under the existing system each family in the Below Poverty Line (BPL) category is entitled to 35 kg of grain, whereas the draft bill entitles an individual to 7 or 4 kg of grain per month depending on the category he falls into. Thus large families will not have to make do with less as the entitlement is calculated on an individual basis. The bill also makes separate provisions for pregnant women and lactating mothers as well as for children.

And yet the draft bill is disappointing. The government claims it will spend more on food security for the poor than it has in the past. However, food security experts are pointing out that at the end of the day the numbers that will be entitled to food subsidy under the new legislation will be far smaller. Besides, a family in the general category will get much less grain than the Above Poverty Line (APL) families did under the existing system.

Lack of funds and food grain are often cited by the government for its shrinking support to the poor. This is a lie. When it can extend huge subsidies to the rich — corporate income tax write off alone in the 2011 budget amounted to Rs 88,263 crore — why the tight-fistedness when it comes to the poor? When grains are being exported to feed cattle in Europe, why the cutback on the amount of subsidised grain entitlements to our poor?

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