Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Reliable statistics can only be the basis for any credible planning process and India is a nightmare as far as this area is concerned. Most data available with the government and quoted extensively all around are mere guesstimates arrived at after some cursory survey carried out unscientifically with limited number of subjects. A recent example is provided by the GOI when it was announced that there are 53 towns and cities eligible for investment on retail by foreign companies when in reality there are only 46 of them! Here comes another gem from GOI which wants to continue with its targeted food security program, involving thousands of crores of rupees subsidy, all based on highly unreliable data at its disposal. This fault line has been exposed by a recent survey in Delhi by those concerned with such distorted planning process which is not inclusive but leaves many eligible beneficiaries in the cold! 

"If you have a kutcha house or have a tarpaulin to cover youself, the socio-caste survey will not consider you homeless. If a farmer has a hand-pump provided by the government or a kisan patra to take loans against that, the same BPL scheme could now disqualify him from a BPL card. If a widow has a 16 year-old son, she may end up losing the BPL status because the child is defined as an adult - even though MNREGA refuses to engage those below 18 years. If you have two rooms instead of one in your kutcha house, you could also lose out the BPL status. The Right to Food (RTF) campaign on Monday brought out these glaring examples of the failure of the new Socio-Economic Caste Survey to demand a universal PDS instead of a targeted approach as planned by UPA. Claiming that the survey would leave several lakh rightful claimants outside the new BPL list, the RTF campaign will gather a 1,000 such 'zero scorepati' people in Delhi on Tuesday, demanding that government needs to clarify on selection of beneficiaries before it considers the National Food Security bill. "The criteria being used to identify the poor under the survey are dubious and the food bill is a blunder," said National Advisory Council member jean Dreze addressing the media here on Monday. "How can the food bill be enacted without knowing the criteria for selecting the beneficiaries," he said. "It's like putting the cart before the horse," he added. Earlier, the Planning Commission and the rural development ministry had announced that it would dispense with the artificial poverty-line based cut-off for beneficiaries of the proposed food security bill. They had said the survey would be used as the basis for the identification of the poor, and set up a committee to finalize it. But Dreze and his colleagues pointed out that even as such glaring lacunae continued to exist, the survey had begun in several states like Rajasthan and Orissa and completed in some like Tripura. Another member of the RTF campaign said the Union rural development ministry had been insensitive when approached with the problems in the survey, and had given 'non-answers' to its pointed interventions even as the exercise continued'"

The controversy as to whether the Public Distribution System (PDS) should be targeted or universal is another issue which divides the nation, though there are points for as well as against both the mode of food security systems. Considering that India is a poor country, though the government may entertain the grandiose stance of being an economic super power, the resources required for universal PDS is mind boggling. Simple common sense should tell the planners that a family with income around Rs15000-25000 a month does not deserve state subsidized food grains and protagonists of both universal and targeted PDS policies want these relatively rich people to be included under the food security program being considered. On the other hand another alternative suggested calls for cash distribution to the beneficiaries in lieu of food grains. The tragedy is no one in this country knows who is really poor deserving state help for food security, how many of them are there and where they are located! When there will be clarity on these issues? Earlier this puzzle is solved better it will be for the country as well as the real poor people hoping in perpetuity for a better tomorrow!


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