The NDA government is looking to recalibrate social security programmes, including subsidies, with a series of steps that now cover the National Food Security Act, sparking off criticisms of spending cuts in food handouts in a country that still has one of the poorest malnutrition records globally.
The food ministry has used an executive provision to propose a cap in the overall number of people eligible for cheap grains under the National Food Security Act until the next general census, even as population continues to expand.
According to the last census, 34 Indians are born every minute.
The second step is to gradually wind down a category of the poorest 20 million people who qualify under Antyodaya households, by stipulating that once such a household moves up on the income ladder, no new Antyodaya households can be added in its place.
Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY), launched by the Atal Bihari government in December 2000, is a Centre-sponsored scheme for ten million of the poorest families.
Families coming under the scheme are provided 35 kilograms of rice and wheat at Rs.3 & Rs.2 per kg. respectively.
Among other changes, the Public Distribution Control Order also seeks to change the nomenclature of beneficiaries to “citizens”, rather than residents under the Food Security Act, while making Aadhar necessary.
The changes mean the Centre won’t provide funds for enrolling new households and states will have to bear the costs if they need to increase beneficiaries.
“This amounts to curtailing provisions under Food Security Act,” said Biraj Patnaik, advisor to the Supreme Court on food security.
“The gap, if any, can be made good by states because they stand to gain 10% increase in revenues under a regime,” said an official said, requesting anonymity.
Analysts say the logic was flawed since the Act stipulates that handouts must be provided by the Centre. Secondly, states don’t get an instant jump in their revenues due to the recommendations of the Finance Commission. Food activists say major provisions of the Act, and the Act itself in some states, are yet to be implemented. Tackling high maternal deaths by granting a one-time nutrition stipend of Rs 6,000 – is yet to take off.