Wrote the following article for MyIndMakers. Pasting it here for reference.
On June 23rd, the lead article on the opinion pages of The Hindu was titled - "Cutting the Food Act to the bone". I read the highlighted portion twice to make sure I was not making a mistake in reading it!
The highlighted portion reads:
“the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) is being sought to be phased out, with States being instructed not to add any new household to this category if any household drops out of the programme due to an improvement in social or economic status…”
AAY was introduced in the year 2000. AAY identifies ~2 crore of the poorest of the poor families in the country. And then gives them rice at Rs.3/kg and wheat at Rs.2/kg (35kgs per family).When the program began in the year 2000, 1 crore families were sought to be beneficiaries. Over the years, subsequent governments have increased the targeted beneficiaries.
The Centre has asked state government that if any households drops out of the AAY due to economic upliftment, it is not necessary that a new family is added to the list of beneficiaries. This also means that the poor are progressing economically and are out of the list of AAY. The author is aghast that such a thing can happen in our country – that the poorest of the poor are capable of moving out of the AAY list. He calls this “phasing out” as an “disrespect” to Vajpayee.
The sudden love of many liberals towards the Vajpayee regime aside, the biggest respect to Mr. Vajpayee would be to ensure that the number of families that are the “poorest of the poor” be empowered to come out of that tag. Adding more number of “poorest of the poor” is the biggest “disrespect” one can think of!. Further, what the author fails to inform his readers is that the said families that come out of the AAY ambit will then be included in the next category – Below Poverty Line or the priority households (Page 17 of this order, Section 3(4)). If this is not fair enough, I really don’t know what else is! The author makes multiple argguments to tell us that the BJP government is “bleeding” the National Food Security Act 2013 (NFSA). One of the arguments has been discussed above.
The next argument is about restricting the number of beneficiaries.
“Second, in complete contravention of Supreme Court orders and the NFSA (Section 9), the PDS (Control) Order freezes the number of people who can access the entitlements, to the decadal Census figures rather than expand it each year based on the population estimates of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India.”
What does Section 9 of the NFSA say? (an amazing example of how UPA resorted to mind-blowing word play!) “…calculated on the basis of the population estimates as per the census of which the relevant figures have been published.”
Can you figure out what exactly it means? Population estimates as per census would mean that you use the census data available, and then arrive at estimate?! It is this ambiguity that the PDS (Control) order resolves – by explicitly stating that the census data is the benchmark. Where is the contravention in this? The NFSA limits the number of beneficiaries - The entitlements of the persons belonging to the eligible households … at subsidised prices shall extend up to seventy-five per cent. of the rural population and up to fifty per cent. of the urban population.
The PDS (Control) order draws up the numbers according to this logic. In page 24 of this order, it is mentioned that as many as 82 crore people of the country are eligible to listed as the beneficiaries! EIGHTY TWO CRORE poor people in the country! The Order also tells the State governments this:
Provided that while issuing ration cards to the eligible households, the State Government shall ensure that the coverage of the number of eligible households is not merely done with a view to exhaust the State-wise ceiling of number of eligible households. This is again a practical advice – It is not necessary that you have so many poor people in your state, therefore make the list wisely. It is a reflection of utter failures of various governments in India that we are staring at a list of 82 crore people who will be classified as poor – instead of suggesting measures to pull them out, we have people arguing to expand the list dynamically.
The next argument is “Political Reversal”.
“The first salvo against the Act was fired in July last year with the illegal extension accorded to the State governments to implement the Act….. Subsequently, the Ministry has extended the date of the implementation twice. All this ostensibly because States have not been able to identify those who should be covered under the provisions of the Act.” What should the Central government do if the States don’t identify? The author says they were not able to do this because the Socio Economic And Caste Census (2011) was not released! If a few states were able to come up with the lists, why not the other states? Have states written to the center blaming it for the delay? How exactly is this a central government problem?
The next problem that the author has is that the Central government insists that this program benefits only citizens of India! Yet again, he fails to give the full details. Am pasting relevant portions in the order (Page 18): “The State Government shall issue a ration card only to a citizen of India … may also issue a ration card to a … household or person being granted the status of a refugee” So either a citizen or a refugee is eligible to receive a ration card – what exactly is the issue here? Is it the author’s contention that ration cards should be given without proper systems in place? Why the partial sharing of information, to make a point? The author then moves on to a procurement scam in Chhattisgarh and informs us that close to 7,00,000 ration cards were cancelled. And then tells us this – “While a large number of them were reinstated subsequently, the most marginalised sections of the population did not manage to find their way back into the system.”
What does he mean by “large number”? What does he mean by “most marginalized”? What kind of assertion is this without any empirical data? Speaking of a ration card scam, lets take another example (that many authors refuse to look at. Possibly because it isn’t ruled by the BJP). Back in 2011, I had taken a picture of a hoarding of the Govt. of AP (then undivided). It talks about the boon to the poor - Rs.1/kg rice scheme. I marked in red the important point in the hoarding, which when translated reads thus:
"7.5 crore poor people will benefit"
The census of 2011 puts the population of AP at 8.46 crores. Doing some complicated math, we can conclude that the AP government has classified a whopping 88.65% of it's population as "poor". The then civil supplies minister also announced that about 25 lakh applications for a white ration card are pending. After the state was bifurcated, one of the first acts of the CM of Telangana was to review the situation of civil supplies. The new AP government also started the process of weeding out bogus cards. A whopping 15 lakh cards were surrendered in AP. A total of 1.47 crore ration cards existed in Telangana, as against the 85 lakh households according to census data of 2011. I wonder why these shortcomings don’t get highlighted in the “national” media!
The author also talks about “Budget cuts”. The online article of The Hindu gives a link to budget cuts proposed by the UPA itself – and the author talks about further cuts by the NDA. The cuts might have been necessitated due to this pilferage too – merely blaming the decisions of NDA without doing any root analysis has been the hallmark of the narrative so far. For how long does the ilk of the author want people to remain poor?