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‘States going to polls quicker to fight hunger under food law’

nationpaper Updated: Jul 05, 2016, 07:14 IST

NEW DELHI: The National Food Security Act, which guarantees cheaper foodgrains to two-thirds of the population, still has to cover 80 million Indians as required by the landmark law enacted three years ago.

A recent study shows six of India’s poorest states — Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal — performing variedly. A few of them have been moving robustly to combat hunger while some are hobbled by delivery issues.

In 2015, India was found to have improved its hunger score to 29 from an astonishing 38.5 in 2005, according to the Global Hunger Index. Yet, India stood 80th among 104 countries, ranking below poorer nations like Bangladesh, North Korea and Myanmar. In 2012, the then prime minister, Manmohan Singh, had termed the country’s “unacceptably high” levels of child malnutrition as a “national shame”.

The Food Security Act promises to cover 813 million, or 67% of the country’s population, but it must include 75% of rural Indians and 50% of urban residents. So far, a majority of 33 states and Union Territories have rolled out the Act. States such as Nagaland are expected to implement it soon. Yet, the Act has to enroll 80 million more beneficiaries, at the last count, says government data.

A survey by economist Jean Dreze, who teaches at Ranchi University, and IIT-Delhi sociologist Reetika Khera showed that among the six poorest states, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh had put in a robust food-distribution network along the lines of Chhattisgarh’s success. In these three states, “most of the sample households had a ration card and were able to secure their foodgrain entitlements at the correct price,” the findings state.

States facing an election in the past one year were quicker to complete food-delivery reforms, such as Bihar and Bengal, the study showed, pointing to the role of political incentives of doing so.

West Bengal took a leading step to give universal access to subsidised grains. In Bihar and Jharkhand, the PDS is “certainly more inclusive, effective and transparent than it used to be. However, exclusion errors and corruption persist, as do occasional gaps in the supply chain (especially in Bihar)”.

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