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November 29, 2010 / subramanyam

Food Security Act…few musings …


          The food security act proposed by the UPA government entitles each BPL family (Below the Poverty Line) to get 35 kilos of wheat or Rice at a subsidized price of Rs 3 per Kilogram. It also entitles the BPL household to get some cereals at a subsidized price. The intention of the act is to remove hunger and eliminate deaths due to starvation in BPL families across the nation. The intention and the timing of the act are perfect. These are difficult times , the food prices are soaring , the rich- poor divide is increasing and the world has seen one of the worst food crisis in the year 2008 .At this juncture if an act empowers a BPL family to get at least 35 Kilograms of Rice or Wheat . I think that’s the best thing that can happen to any family below the poverty line.

           We have been seeing a decline on the percentage of poor people in the country. At least that’s what the successive governments have been telling us .In 1980 we had about 60 percent of the population living below the poverty line. Every subsequent report has been telling us that the number of BPL families is coming down. In 2004-2005 the planning commission said that poverty has come down from 35.97% in 1993-94 to 27.5 in % 2004-2005. With a food security act the number of BPL families would reduce further.

            Formulating a good “act /law” is one thing, implementing it properly is another. This proposed legislation has problems on both fronts. In an operations perspective we do not have clarity on the number or the percentage of people below the poverty line in India. The Government says 27.5 percent of the population is living below the poverty line. The Tendulkar panel opined that people below the poverty line in India are 37% , thus meaning that every third Indian lives below the poverty line .What’s more, the Tendulkar committee has chosen to look at poverty in a different way , deviating from the calorie norm  set in 1973-1974. The committee headed by former chairman of Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council Suresh Tendulkar opined that the health and education costs should also be included while measuring the poverty. So did the planning commission exclude health and educational costs while measuring poverty? Were they measuring the poverty on the basis of calories only?? The 1973-74 methodology says any family that earns enough money to procure food worth 2100 calories in urban areas and 2400 calories in rural areas is no poorer. So was this the sole criterion for poverty in India till now? In the tenth five-year plan the BPL for rural areas was based on some 13 parameters. Each parameter had a score from 0-4.

The parameters are

(i)    Landholding

(ii)   Type of house

(iii)  Clothing

(iv)  Food security

(v)   Sanitation

(vi)  Consumer durables

(vii) Literacy status

(viii) Labor force

(ix)  Means of livelihood

(x)   Status of children

(xi)  Type of indebtedness

(xii) Reasons for migrations etc.

Any family that scores less than 15 out of the total score of 52 (13 *4) is considered to be poor. Now the Tendulkar report argues that data collected on this basis is incorrect. Now the Planning commission chairman says the planning commission is ready to review the Tendulkar’s report is reasonable and the commission is ready to review the report and go by the estimates of the Tendulkar committee.Why such a turn around? These links might give us an idea.

(http://www.dnaindia.com/money/report_montek-singh-backs-suresh-tendulkar-committee-on-bpl-nos_1368640

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/5826309.cms

)

          Again, the World Bank has completely a different take on this .According to the World Bank at least 41.5 % percent of the population is living under poverty line in India .The World Bank measures poverty on the basis of earnings, according to World Bank anyone who earns less than $1.25 per day is considered poor.

           This takes the problem from an operations level to a formulation level; it asks us to be clear on the basis to determine poverty .We need to have a realistic estimate of poverty in India immediately. If an index of 13 parameters was not able to deliver the goods, what else can deliver the goods? I think the error lies with government’s accepting data that suits them. If the links provided by me are any evidence it means the governments take up data that suit them. We should do away with this sort of politically correct /suitable system. O.k. for now we can definitely go with the Tendulkar committee’s 37 percent as the number of people below the poverty line but in the days to come the government and planning commission need to devise a better mechanism to establish the basis for the calculation of poverty in India.

           And this time instead of just having 2 categories such as above the poverty line and below the poverty line ,the government can actually bring in more categories such as starvation zone, a malnourished  zone, poverty zone, then a lower-income group, a middle-income group and a higher income group . This is just a rough idea. One can refine it and come up with a correct group structure. Here the priorities of each group would be different hence the government can dole out specific programs to eliminate the hunger and poverty in the first 3 zones.

          Again certain amount of changes in the policy is also required; a decentralized administration can be of great help here. See the food of India is produced in the villages only and the irony is that people starve to death in the very same villages, why? Can’t we have a food storage unit per mandal or say per district that stores some amount food grains .can’t we have system which enables the poorest of the poor to borrow some food grains from the food storage unit on an assurance that he would pay back that in next one year or so. Again the idea might sound a little crass but these can be refined and implemented. Again involving NGO’s and social welfare organizations in this sort of plans will make the things more effective.

           There should be some other policy changes as well, we encouraged the farmers to go towards cash crops (like cotton, jute etc) instead of food crops (Rice, wheat etc).Today the agriculture is practically shrinking in this country. Cash crops give more money to the farmer than the food crops and it’s natural for the farmers to go with cash crops .As a result, few years down the line we might end up importing more and more food grains into the country. The government must check this, we must encourage the farmers to go with food crops or we are heading towards a bigger crisis. It is also important that the government give more and more impetus to agriculture, there is a need to invest heavily in the Research and Development of Agriculture. We need new seeds, new seeds which help us in increasing our yields.

            If the government fails in bringing any of these changes, we are heading for bigger trouble. The national food security act is an excellent opportunity to fight the hunger and poverty of India. If we utilize this opportunity and make the required changes, we will be the nation that gives the real  food “security ” to its citizens.

 

 

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One Comment

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  1. Sanda Krimple / Dec 14 2010 3:03 pm

    I have to admit that i sometimes get bored to read the whole thing but i think you can add some value. Cheers !

    Like

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