Many States have been improving their Public Distribution System over the last five years
On Tuesday, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh criticising the National Food Security Bill (NFSB) for not being expansive enough. What Mr. Modi omitted to mention is that the same complaint could be made of the existing Public Distribution System (PDS) in his own state.
The most significant difference between the PDS as it currently functions in Gujarat and the NFSB is that the Bill is expected to cover roughly 77.24 lakh families in the State who will get 5 kg per person per month of rice or wheat (or 25 kg per household per month on average), according to calculations by the Right To Food campaign, a network of activists pushing for food security. At present, Gujarat provides subsidised grain to only 7.35 lakh families under the Antyoday Anna Yojana (AAY) and 24.35 lakh Below Poverty Line (BPL) families, according to data as of June 2013 provided by the State government to the Supreme Court Commissioners on the Right To Food.
Officially, the State lists an additional 71 lakh families as Above Poverty Line (APL-1), but does not provide them any subsidised grain, a fact noted by the Justice Wadhwa committee in its report on the PDS in Gujarat in 2009, and confirmed from the field in 2013 by the Gujarat-based Anna Adhikar Suraksha Abhiyan (AASA) in a survey. Instead, a part of the APL quota is, officially, diverted to the BPL quota.
Mr. Modi’s letter to the PM criticised the Centre for moving to a per capita entitlement system that would reduce the amount of grain a BPL family of five would be eligible for to 25 kilograms from the current 35 kg. However, Gujarat itself raised the BPL entitlement from 20 kg to 35 kg only in 2008 after a High Court order in a case the Court took up suo motu. The additional 15 kg that are being given to BPL families after the HC order are officially being diverted from the Above Poverty Line (APL) quota, Sejal Dand of the AASA, which intervened in the case, told The Hindu.
Neither is the entire 35 kg given to BPL families uniformly subsidised. The first 13 kg of wheat and the first 3 kg of rice is sold at the subsidised rate of Rs. 2 per kg (for wheat) and Rs. 3 per kg (for rice), according to the latest monthly advertisement published by the Gujarat government’s food and civil supplies department. However the next 16 kg of wheat and 3 kg of rice are sold at Rs. 7.50 per kg for wheat and Rs. 7 per kg for rice, according to the advertisement. In contrast, the National Food Security Bill will provide 5 kg of wheat at Rs. 2 per kg per family member and 5 kg of rice at Rs. 3 per kg per family member, according to the draft Bill.
While many States have been improving their PDS over the last five years, Gujarat is one of the worst-performing Indian states on two aspects of the PDS: it has a low and falling per capita PDS consumption, and among the highest rates of foodgrain diversion, according to an analysis of National Sample Survey Organisation data by economist Reetika Khera of IIT-Delhi. Falling per capita PDS consumption, moreover, is not an indication of rising affluence; Tamil Nadu, with a universal PDS and higher per capita income than Gujarat, has higher per capita PDS purchase and consumption, and far fewer leakages.
Over half of those in the poorest quintile in Gujarat report that they do not get any subsidised grain, nearly ten percentage points higher than the national average, according to the 2009-10 National Sample Survey. “The biggest problem is that the BPL lists have not been updated since 1998 and nearly half the names on that list are fake, excluding thousands of genuinely poor and vulnerable households,” Ms. Dand said.
“The NFSB is not the perfect piece of legislation. It is just a small step in the right direction. Mr. Modi is scarcely qualified to comment on it given the state of the PDS in Gujarat and the social sector indicators there,” said Biraj Patnaik, principal adviser to the SC commissioners, adding that food schemes in Gujarat were “plagued by contractor raj” while Chhattisgarh was doing a much better job.
The article has been edited to incorporate the following correction:
A sentence in the report, “In Gujarat, the PDS is exclusionary & leaky” (August 17, 2013) read: “In contrast, the National Food Security Bill will provide all 5 kg of wheat at Rs. 2 per family member and all 5 kg of wheat at Rs. 3 per kg, according to the draft Bill." It should have been 5 kg of wheat at Rs. 2 per kg per family member and 5 kg of rice at Rs. 3 per kg per family member.