The deadline for implementation of the Food Security Act has been extended by the Centre by three months. 25 states and union territories are yet to implement the law. In the context of drought conditions looming large in many parts of the country, crisis in agriculture, more particularly in rural areas where suicides by farmers continue, it is imperative that the Act is implemented in every state in letter and spirit.
There is no unanimity on the question of who is poor. The Rangarajan committee has dismissed the Tendulkar committee report on estimating poverty and holds that the number of poor in India was much higher in 2011-12 at 29.5% of the population, which meant that three out of every 10 persons were poor. The Tendulkar committee estimated poverty at 21.9% in 2011-12. The Rangarajan committee raises the poverty bar and holds that a person spending less than Rs 1,407 per month (Rs 47 a day) would be considered poor in cities as against Tendulkar committee‘s Rs 1000 a month. In rural areas those spending less than Rs 972 a month (Rs 32 per day) would be considered poor as against the Tendulkar committee’s Rs 816 a month.
Telangana state that has been witnessing farmers suicides and starvation deaths for over a decade must take stock of the situation and evolve a more inclusive policy. Sky rocketing of price of rice in Telangana due to uncontrolled hoarding and stoppage of rice supplies from A.P. after the division of the state will burden the state government and above all, the poor who will be further pushed towards hunger and starvation.
It is estimated that in Telangana there are 91.95 lakh BPL cards covering a population of 328.44 lakh and 14.87 lakh APL cards covering a population of 55.64 lakhs. The BPL cards have been issued on the basis of annual family income of Rs 60, 000 in rural area and Rs 75,000 in urban areas. There are more Ration cards than the number of families! The TRS government is taking steps to weed out bogus Ration cards. The chief Rationing Officer of Hyderabad district has said that in June this year 6,216 cards were deactivated after a door to door enquiry. The criteria of annual income of Rs 60,000 for rural areas and Rs 75,000 for urban areas falls short of Rangarajan committee criteria of Rs 1407 per month for urban area and Rs 972 a month in rural areas. As per Rangarajan committee estimates, the number of poor in urban areas of Telangana is likely to be higher than the government estimates.
Any weeding out must be more inclusive (than exclusive) and must adhere to the model rules for PDS under NFSA. These rules cover in the first stage all such families which possess an AAY card and all such families which belong in the ‘priority category’ which the state government may identify from time to time. In the second stage of the scheme, priority category will include (a) persons registered for social security pension scheme (b) children residing in orphanages and elderly persons residing in old age homes (d) all registered landless agricultural labourers in rural areas whose name is not included in the BPL list, and (d) all registered construction workers in urban areas whose name is not included in the BPL list. Suggestions have been made to include other categories such as particularly vulnerable tribal groups; households headed by a widow or a single women or a person with disability, etc.
It must be noted that the inclusive criteria if implemented will cover those children and destitute/homeless. In Hyderabad, some 2006 children are housed in the homes run by Balyamitra Network. The Network raises funds from various sources, private or government to run these homes. The Telangana government must consider extending BPL to cover these homes to enable them to buy rice and other items at subsidised rates at the Ration shops. In a country as vast as India and with poverty levels being what they are, it is far more easy to identify the rich and exclude them from subsidies. The criteria that excludes is - all such households in which the head of the household or any other member of the household - is an income tax payee, all such households in non scheduled areas, who hold more than 4 hectares of irrigated land or more than 8 hectares of non-irrigated areas; all such households who owns a pucca house in urban areas, which has a carpet area of more than one thousand square feet and or liable to pay property tax as per prevailing rules of the local bodies; any such other households, which may be extended as per the criteria as may be presented.
In the ultimate analysis what can tackle hunger and poverty is not subsidies/charity schemes but an economy that provides employment to every individual, every family and make food accessible to people at affordable prices at all times. Till such time, subsidies cannot be withdrawn and the food schemes must be implemented in letter and spirit.
(The author is the general secretary of Anveshi Research Centre for Women’s Studies)