Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Food Security Bill, now brought into effect through an ordinance, by-passing the Parliament, is riddled with lot of contradictions with no one in the government coming out with any clarity. Many skeptics wonder whether this is a deliberate ploy by the government to confuse the electorate and win the next election! Otherwise it does not make any sense for the very same government to come out with some statistics in its latest claim on poverty reduction which seem to have taken many experts by surprise. What is the ground reality?

According to the figures prominently flashed across the media during the lat two days the present government was so "committed" to the poor man, it has reduced by magic the extent of poor people in the country, the so called BPL population, drastically by a whopping 15.3% within a matter of 8 years! These comparative figures pertain to the years 2004-2005 and 2011-2012, the period the present government has been "burning midnight oil" to "uplift" the population from abysmal poverty! Probably during 2012-2013, the percentage must have dropped further due to the "hard work" of this government, in spite of all scams that had taken place draining   
billions of rupees from the exchequer! Now the million dollar question or quiz is how many Indians are poor in absolute numbers to day?

If the ruling elite is to be believed there are only about 240 million people living below the government fixed BPL benchmark. However the cat is out of the bag if these figures are scrutinized a little more critically. A poor person really becomes a government certified poor person if the personal income is between Rs 35 and 27 per day depending on whether this person is living in urban area or rural hinterlands! One wonders whether such a person really exist in this country any more as this pitiful amount cannot get even a part of daily necessities required for keeping the body and the soul together! Probably such a person must be not be wearing any dress daily, may not have a roof above the head, must be walking to all the destinations, has no access to nutritious foods like milk, pulses, eggs, meat, fruits, vegetables etc! Rs 27 can definitely buy cereals with adequate calories so that life in absolute terms is not severely threatened though the quality of health must be very very low. 

If this is the real condition for 240 million of the population, the food security bill is more than justified in giving them rice or wheat at Rs1-3 per kg at the rate of 5 kg per person. By giving about 165 gm of cereals providing about 600 kC per day government probably wants to keep this poor person alive hoping that the Rs 27-35 earned by this "icon" will be used to top up the calorie content to the daily minimum requirement of 2000 kC. But in the actual scheme of things, the government is being more than magnanimous by covering two thirds of the country's population under its food security phobia. Why? Does the government have unlimited funds ( collected from honest tax paying citizens) to squander like this? If the government really feels strongly about the pitiable conditions of these people identified above, why not ensure that they are adequately provided with enough cereals to meet their total calories needs at least? Probably this can be done by restricting the number of people covered and diverting the grains so saved to be given to the real BPL people? 

The real intention behind such a diabolical scheme, as being felt by many honest citizens in this country, is to "bribe" as many people as possible with state resources to collect "I Owe You" sentiments that is anticipated to be converted into votes during the next general election. Interestingly the most recent Census by government's another agency puts the number of BPL people at about 50% of the country's population based on quality of life and their aspirations. According to this version a person earning less than Rs 10000 per month or Rs 333 per day qualifies to be called poor and all others are above poverty line. If the government feels there is a resource crunch, take the figure of Rs 150 which is fixed as daily wage under the MGNREGA scheme paid for 100 days in a year which works out to Rs 50 per day per person. Under such circumstances what government ought to be doing is to just help these people to supplement their food requirement through subsidized foods which will make their lives more sustainable. This is what is supposed to be accomplished through the Public Distribution System (PDS) that is in place to day throughout the country. It is another matter that the PDS is a disease stricken arm of the government afflicted by corruption, bribery, pilferage and looting with hardly 40% of the targeted beneficiaries being really "benefited" with the rotten quality grains delivered through the so called ration shops. 

Instead of rectifying the faults of PDS where is the need to think in terms of enacting the meaningless food security bill which can never fulfill the needs of the poor people in the country. Even under the PDS what is the mechanism to identify poor people who really deserve help from the state? The burden on the PDS could have been reduced considerably if those really poor are identified through a very reliable mechanism, those falsifying the financial status being severely dealt for fraudulent practice. Laxity in management and criminal collusion among some politicians, bureaucrats and criminals have literally destroyed the PDS activities in most of the states with very little being done to plug the leakage of grains. 

Common sense tells that government must separate politics from matters involving life and death to millions of people and any poverty alleviation program must be based on bipartisan decisions through consensus.  Ask any citizen in the country about what must be done to ensure equity and fair deal for the common man and the answer will be a vociferous assertion that PDS must be made more efficient in delivering the essential foods in adequate quantity and quality to those who really deserve them, not for others who can financially afford to access such foods from the open market. The crux of the problem is how, who and when a honest exercise would be done to identify the deserving beneficiaries on whom the state can expend the public resources for bringing them on par with other citizens.       

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