Eminent development economists write an open letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Dr. Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister of India
March 12, 2012
Dear Prime Minister,
We welcome the tabling of a National Food Security Bill in the Lok Sabha as an important step towards the elimination of hunger and undernutrition in India. However, we feel that the Bill in its current form has some serious shortcomings. We are writing to propose a simpler and more effective framework for the Public Distribution System (PDS), which requires only minor amendments of the Bill.
The Bill relies on a complicated three-way division of the population between “priority,” “general” and excluded households. This division, we feel, is problematic for several reasons. First, there is no clarity as to how these different groups are to be identified, and we have serious doubts about the possibility of devising a practical, fair and effective method of doing it. Second, with PDS benefits largely restricted to priority households, this approach would have many of the weaknesses of “BPL targeting,” which has proved so unreliable and divisive in the past. Third, this rigid framework, based on selection criteria and other parameters prescribed by the Central Government, would undermine the positive trend towards a more inclusive PDS in many states. Last but not least, this framework is confusing — simplicity and transparency are essential for the success of this historic legislation.
We submit that it would be simpler, safer and more effective to abolish the distinction between general and priority households, and give the same PDS entitlements to all households outside the excluded category. This would dispense with the need for a complicated identification process, except for the use of exclusion criteria, which is relatively straightforward. The risk of exclusion errors would be small. And everyone would be able to understand this framework, making it much more likely to succeed. (The poorest households would continue to receive special support under the Antyodaya programme.)
The attached note, “Simplifying the National Food Security Bill,” presents a more detailed outline of this proposal. As explained in this note, this approach could go a long way even without additional resources (compared with the current version of the Bill).
We, the signatories of this letter, take different views on other aspects of the Bill, especially PDS reforms, including alternative models of subsidy delivery such as food coupons or cash transfers. The Bill, best thought of as an enabling legislation, should facilitate informed scrutiny of these alternatives without imposing a rigid model across the country. As far as the issue raised in this letter is concerned, we unanimously believe that simplifying the framework is essential for the success of the Bill.
We urge you to consider this proposal.
Dilip Abreu (Princeton University);
Pulapre Balakrishnan (Director, Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram);
Abhijit Banerjee (Massachusetts Institute of Technology);
Sangeeta Bansal (Jawaharlal Nehru University);
Pranab Bardhan (University of California, Berkeley);
V. Bhaskar (University College, London);
Ashwini Deshpande (Delhi School of Economics);
Bina Agarwal (Director, Institute of Economic Growth);
Mahendra Dev (Director, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research);
Jean Drèze (Allahabad University);
Bhaskar Dutta (Warwick University);
Maitreesh Ghatak (London School of Economics);
Deepti Goel (Delhi School of Economics);
Ashima Goyal (Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research);
Himanshu (Jawaharlal Nehru University);
Rajshri Jayaraman (European School of Management and Technology, Berlin);
K.P. Kannan (former Director, Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram);
Anirban Kar (Delhi School of Economics);
Reetika Khera (Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi);
Ashok Kotwal (University of British Columbia);
Srijit Mishra (Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research);
Dilip Mookherjee (Boston University);
K. Nagaraj (Asian College of Journalism);
R. Nagaraj (Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research);
Sudha Narayanan (Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research);
Pulin Nayak (Delhi School of Economics);
Rohini Pande (Harvard University);
Kirit Parikh (Chairman, Integrated Research and Action for Development);
Bharat Ramaswamy (Indian Statistical Institute);
Debraj Ray (New York University);
Atul Sarma (former Vice-Chancellor, Rajiv Gandhi University);
Abhijit Sen (Member, Planning Commission);
K. Sundaram (Delhi School of Economics);
Jeemol Unni (Director, Institute of Rural Management, Anand);
Sujata Visaria (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology);
Vijay Vyas (Member, Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister).
(All the signatories are development economists.)
Click here to read the attached note Simplifying the National Food Security Bill (PDF)
Click here to read the Letter to the Prime Minister on National Food Security Bill (PDF)