Centre has let the States to decide their own criteria for identifying beneficiaries
The S.R. Hashim Committee report on urban poor has been put in the cold storage by the UPA government. The report, submitted in December 2012 set out the criteria by which the poor living in urban areas were to be identified for various government schemes, especially the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013.
While the government has failed to formally adopt the report, it has let the States to decide their own criteria for identifying beneficiaries for the NFSA and put an artificial cap on the numbers the Centre would provide subsidy for.
The nation-wide cap on urban poor under the NFSA has been put at 50%. Two Hashim Committee members that The Hindu spoke to separately said if the government followed the committee recommendations, the number of poor in urban areas would rise substantially and hover closer to the 70% mark. Both expressed reservations that this is part of the reason that the report has been put in cold storage.
One committee member, wishing to remain anonymous said, “The committee based its identification criteria on the parameters that were mapped by the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC). We did not build the criteria in order to fit the 50% cap that the government imposed in the NFSA. Our review suggested that the number of urban poor that deserve food subsidy in cities is higher.”
A senior official of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation (MHUPA) acknowledged this. Wishing to also remain anonymous, he said, “The identification of the urban poor using the criteria suggested by Hashim Committee should ideally not be done keeping the imposed cap in mind, but the government has now imposed a cap and already informed the States that they can identify the poor as they desire.”
The panel members pointed to the problems this will bring in implementation of the Food Act. “Unlike in the rural areas, the identification of poor beneficiaries in the urban areas has traditionally been done on the basis of political patronage. At least the BPL survey had some basis, even if there were some problems to it. For cities this was the first systematic approach the government had taken. But, the methodology has been shelved and the problems and corruption endemic to existing targeted public distribution system in urban areas will continue under the new law,” one panel member said.
For the record, Planning Commission which ordered the report said it has ‘in-principle’ accepted the report and passed it on to the MHUPA. But, on its part the Planning Commission has instead sent the State-specific limits on beneficiaries to all for the food law. These aggregate to the 50% cap in urban areas and 75% cap in rural India. The MHUPA official said as the SECC itself is long way from completion and the NFSA is already under implementation with freedom for States to decide their own beneficiaries, there is no urgency in following up on the Hashim Committee report. Practically, it has left the Hashim panel as redundant for the Food Act as the Abhijit Sen Committee which had been formed to develop similar criteria for identifying rural poor using the SECC.
The States gearing up for Assembly elections, such as Delhi and Rajasthan have gone ahead with their own methods of building on the old beneficiary lists dating back to 2002. This is for ensuring that none of the States going ahead with the identification of beneficiaries for the act want to weed out existing fraudulent BPL cards but only add new beneficiaries — a politically savvy thing to do in an election year.