Noted film director Shekhar Kapur wrote on Twitter in response to the proposed Rs 1 lakh crore plus (more than US $ 18 billion) Food Security Bill, “If 75% Indians need subsidies just 2 eat ver is d hyped India story? n how will Walmart help? Food Security Bill”.
Activist Devinder Sharma wrote, “Food Security bill: Replacing BPL and APL categories with ‘Priority’ and ‘General’ is nothing but an eyewash.” He earlier had written, “India’s Food Security bill is like an old wine in a new bottle.”
Most of the concerns about this Food Security Bill has revolved around the fact that where from will this UPA-II government led by economist Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh bring the money when the country is already witnessing a slowdown.
Let’s ignore the economic concerns for the time being since we are a country where according to none other than the World Bank one in three Indians lives on less than $1 a day and overall 80% of India’s 1.1 billion people live on less than $2 a day. India is among 29 countries with the highest levels of hunger, stunted children and poorly fed women, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute’s Global Hunger Index.
The ambitious Food Security Bill (FSB) draft promises 7 kg of rice, wheat or coarse grains per person per month to “priority” households at hugely subsidised prices of Rs 3, Rs 2 and Re 1 a kg respectively. A family of five would thus get 35 kg of wheat at just Rs 70 a month. Even for those who are above the poverty line – the FSB proposes to supply 3 kg of any of the above grains per person at 50 percent of the minimum support price (MSP) paid to farmers.
An expected 75 percent of the rural population and 50 percent of the urban population will benefit from it, making it the biggest social security scheme in the history of independent India.
Then why this harakiri around a bill that would cost hardly 1.4 per cent of our GDP? Why a populist leader like Sharad Pawar cite grave “financial risks” of giving cheap foodgrains to the 63.5% of the people through a food-guaranteeing law.
There comes the other side to this story.
The bill has been brought to fulfill Congress Party’s poll pledge to guarantee affordable food to 63.5% of the country’s population. However, on the more realpolitik front, the UPA-II has been witnessing one after another round of crisis resulting in a severe credibility crisis. The 2G, 3G, Commonwealth, and coal corruption scandals; the relentless attack by Team Anna’s anti-corruption brigade; the ever increasing oil prices…..the government needs something to claim credit for. After all Congress can’t gift Uttar Pradesh to Maywati that easily.
Making food a legal entitlement, as provided for in the food security bill, would require the government to make massive investments in the farm sector, to the tune of Rs 3.50 lakh crore, according to a government estimate. Not to forget, the farm loan waiver of Rs 72,000 crore in 2008 and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) which has cost the exchequer nearly Rs 1,00,000 crore so far. The Congress has done its bit further by keeping diesel, cooking gas and kerosene prices low. FirstPost wrote that the under recoveries from these three were as much as Rs 2,23,203 crore in the period 2005-11. This year’s alone the under-recoveries have been of Rs 1,32,000 crore.
It’s a hell lot of money. Lakhs of crore of Rs. for schemes which are doomed to fail or at least fail significantly!
Who in this Congress govt. doesn’t know that Rajeev Gandhi said that only 15 paise of a Rupee that is spent reaches the poor.
But it’s not about the money indeed. It’s about the misuse and systemic corruption that this government has consciously ignored to curb even as it has kept doling out subsidies.
Congress govt. won’t bring a powerful Lokpal Bill, it won’t ensure that the RTI is made more powerful and it would certainly not do enough to put an effective end to the corruption inside its own government.
What has changed since 2008 that would ensure the genuine allocation of this huge amount of subsidy?
Why can’t the government go for creative use of subsidy money that would ensure that it reaches the beneficiary? It has been said again and again that there are better ways of ensuring it through cash coupons and other methods of providing the poor the relief they need.
The fact remains that even as we ignore the claims of the many in the English media press blaming them of elitism when it comes to subsidy for the poor, the government needs to do more with less at a time when we are ill prepared to involve in one after another round of financial stupidity.
The country has been going through a seriously bad patch of development. Not able to believe it then read Shekhar Gupta, the Indian Express Editor-in-Chief’s famous column National Interest, on December 10 to know how severe is this economic slowdown. We are truly in for another round of Hindu Rate of Growth @ 6 per cent.
But then who listens to all this when the threat is on the future of those who are in power?
Dear Shekhar Kapur, this bill is indeed not for the poor alone. Sharad Pawar knows it better.