The Anna Bhagya scheme in Karnataka has seen many detractors from the day it was announced.

The State government’s decision to provide rice to the poor at Re.1 a kg has seen many detractors from the day it was announced. Their arguments range from how it would make the poor “lazy” to what a “huge burden” it is on the State’s exchequer.

The argument of “laziness” fails to answer the big question on how getting cheap rice will help a family deal with escalating prices of all other goods and services, including health and education. On the other hand, there are examples galore of other States dealing with the financial burden to provide cheap grains to the poor.

Other States

For instance, the Tamil Nadu government supplies 20 kg of rice free of cost for all cardholders. Tamil Nadu allocated Rs. 3,100 crore annually for the distribution of 3.1 lakh tonnes of rice every month, according to the State’s last budget. Andhra Pradesh distributes rice at Re. 1 a kg to 7.5 crore people at annual cost of Rs. 3,231 crore for distributing 3.25 lakh tonnes of rice every month.

Chhattisgarh, from where Karnataka is importing rice from this month, distributes 35 kg rice at Re. 1 for more than 90 percent of the population, at an annual expenditure of Rs. 3,000 crore. Orissa and Kerala too provide 20 to 25 kg of rice at Re. 1 a kg for all BPL cardholders.

Those in favour of the scheme also say that the “burden” is hardly an argument when it concerns the basic need of nearly a crore poeple. H.V. Vasu, State convener of the Karnataka Janashakti, asks why only schemes concerning the poor raise such a furore?

He points out that there was no debate when the 6th Pay Commission was implemented, benefiting 4.5 lakh government employees and costing the government additional expenditure of Rs. 4,450 crore. “There were no questions asked when a few IT and BT companies in Bangalore circle were given VAT exemption of Rs. 4900 crore for 2010-11,” said Dr. Vasu.

Malnutrition issue

The big task ahead, according to Kathyayini Chamaraj from CIVIC, is working towards at least “near universalisation” where most people come under the food security net. There should be “clear-cut unambiguous criterion” to identify who is eligible for subsidised food, she said, adding that the target should be providing a wholesome food basket that helps tackle malnutrition.