State’s share of subsidised foodgrains will increase by 68 per cent; Centre will bear an additional subsidy of Rs. 595 crore

On June 14, at Manika in Latehar, 180 km from Ranchi, more than 300 men and women stood in the pouring monsoon rain to record their testimonies about the functioning of public schemes in their villages as district officials listened at a public hearing organised by the Gram Swaraj Abhiyan.

“Those with ration cards in the village got grains but we did not. The dealer says he did not get paid for grains meant for our families. It seems two trucks full of grains reached the district but not our villages. Are they circulating somewhere in Manika then?” said Munna Kanwar a farmer who has an additional BPL number from Jharkhand government but no ration card. Several families from villages in Latehar— categorised among India’s poorest districts after a survey in 1997 — reported they got 30-32 kg foodgrains instead of 35 kg/month. Some said they were asked to pay bribes of Rs. 100 for proof of being BPL and while enrolling in Aadhaar.

The Central government allots subsidised foodgrains, categorising 24 lakh families, or 37.6 per cent of Jharkhand’s population as Below Poverty Line (BPL). Since this was based on a survey done 15 years ago by the Bihar government, in 2009, the Jharkhand government included another 11.4 lakh families or 17 per cent of the population, making 55 per cent of the State’s population eligible for subsidised grains under the Public Distribution System.

Under the National Food Security Bill (NFSB) 2013, 2.4 crore individuals or 75 percent of the State’s 3.2 crore population will get 5 kg per person per month of rice or wheat — 25 kg per family on an average. Based on calculations of consumption expenditure in States, Jharkhand along with Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh , and the north-eastern States will have the highest PDS coverage in villages.

In Jharkhand, 87 per cent of the State’s rural population and 60 per cent urban population will be covered. Further, officials estimate that the State’s share of subsidised foodgrains will increase by 68 per cent even as the Centre will bear an additional subsidy of Rs. 595 crore for the food-deficit State with the highest levels of malnourishment after MP. “This additional subsidy puts us in a position to continue 35 kg foodgrains scheme to extremely poor Antodyaya families such as particularly vulnerable tribal groups etc. for free,” said Secretary Food and Civil Supplies (FCS) A.K. Singh.

“Jharkhand will save money on payments to the Centre, which can be used to start providing pulses and oil at least to Antyodaya households. It is a fantastic opportunity to universalise and wipe out hunger from the State. It is also an opportunity to end corruption by focusing on PDS reform, and improving infrastructure,” said economist Jean Dreze.

So far, efforts for the PDS reform have not moved as fast as in neighbouring such as Chhattisgarh or Odisha. The FCS department has announced a pilot project in four blocks in four districts — Ranchi, Raigarh, Khunti, Dhanbad — where it will experiment with distribution of foodgrains to households using smart-cards and Aadhaar numbers. But this pilot project announced initially for August has already been shifted twice because of “technical difficulties”. The project may go on at least six months before the project is scaled up. Jharkhand government’s exercise to digitise ration cards and achieve end-to-end computerisation has also been pushed back several times in last 12 months and no new ration cards have been distributed. “They need to improve storage and appoint an independent ombudsman to address complaints,” said Balram, advisor to Supreme Court on Right to Food case.

Jharkhand’s political uncertainty affects policy as well. After the new coalition Congress-Jharkhand Mukti Morcha-led government claimed a majority in July — the ninth government in the State in 13 years — Food and Civil Supplies portfolio was given to JMM’s Champai Soren but he declined preferring Industry instead. On August 23, the department was allotted to JMM’s Simon Marandi.

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