Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Food Security Act-A "Tuglakian" venture?

India is a country of entitlements of different categories to various people and government is happy splurging public money to cater to these claimants whether they really deserve them or not. Latest addition to the entitlement landscape in the country is doling out almost free food grains to 67% of the population from the granaries of the government. The so called Food Security Act which confers on the designated population the "right" to receive practically free food grains like rice, wheat or coarse grains was hastily thought of by the previous government without much thought to the heavy burden put on future governments to harness sufficient resources to meet these commitments. Interestingly the government provided an escape clause in the Act if it is unable to procure adequate grains for supplying to almost 800 million people who were designated to receive the entitlement, though God knows what criteria were used to identify the beneficiaries. In lieu of supplying grains at the rate of 5 kg per person government intends to compensate the beneficiaries with cash transfer from the public exchequer at a certain calculated rate. Here is a gist of the scheme under which cash compensation is paid. 

"If a beneficiary under the National Food Security Act does not get his or her entitlement, then he/she would get an allowance of 1.25 times the difference between the government's Minimum Support Price (MSP) for that grain and the prescribed rate under the law. This is according to the recent rules framed by the Centre in this regard. The current MSP of wheat is Rs 1,450 a quintal and so, an individual beneficiary will get Rs 80.60 a month for not getting the entitled five kg. The allowance will have to deposited in the bank account or given to him. "Suppose a beneficiary has not received three kg of wheat in a month due to non-availability at the ration shop. The state government will have to ensure he or she gets the allowance as laid down in the rules," a senior official said. The Act, passed in the tenure of the earlier government, gives a legal entitlement for cheap grain to almost 67 per cent of the population. All entitled beneficiaries will get in a month as much as five kg of wheat, rice or coarse cereals at Rs 3 a kg for rice, Rs 2 a kg for wheat and Rs 1 a kg for coarse cereals. Once implemented, the Act is expected to cost the exchequer about Rs 130,000 crore a year. Around 11 states and union territories have implemented the Act and others are in the process of doing so. The Centre has extended the deadline several times. The Centre has said a nodal officer will have to verify at the end of each month the amount of grain available in the ration shops, the status of supply to entitled beneficiaries and the reason why grain could not be supplied. "The food security allowance in lieu of grains will have to given to the beneficiary by the end of the third week of the month for which grains could not be supplied to him." However, a beneficiary will be eligible for the allowance only if he visits the ration to claim the entitlement."

It is a tragedy that under the so called food security program, the right to receive heavily subsidized cereals is conferred only to some while other citizens are deprived of the same. Is it not a type of discrimination where some are given the benefits while others are denied it? Legally is it tenable? It is another matter that many citizens would voluntarily give up this right because of their conscience not to put unnecessary burden on the exchequer and avoid wasting public money. It is possible that most of the people who receive these grains have the wherewithal to pay for the grains at rates used to be charges under the earlier Public Distribution System. With the MNREGA scheme guaranteeing job for 150 days at the rate of Rs 150 per day there may be very little justification to provide grains at throw away prices. If the nation is serious in providing succor to really poor people, the government must create a data base identifying such people through scientific surveys. Probably there might not me more than 10-15% of the population in the country who deserve such helping hand from the government in providing basic foods at affordable prices. .It is nothing but suicidal for the present day government to commit precious resources of such a magnitude, estimated at almost Rs 130 billion every year which could have been better invested on the creaking infrastructure in the country!


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