TOWARDS A HUNGER FREE INDIA
The beginning of the new millennium has seen India emerge as the second most populous country in the world and the third largest economy in Asia. A strong power in the field of Information Technology, India is making rapid strides with the reforms carried out in the power, telecom and other economic sectors. Though there has been no scarcity of foodgrains in the country, there is a problem of shortage of facilities to store the same. Herein lies the irony of the situation. A predominantly agricultural country like India has about 32 crore people living below the poverty line. According to a sample survey , about 5 percent of the total population goes without two square meals a day most of the year as they do not have the necessary purchasing power to buy foodgrains.
To deal effectively with this problem, the Prime Minister, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee launched the Antyodaya Anna Yojana on December 25, 2000. This scheme is an important milestone in providing foodgrains to the poor. It contemplates identification of one crore families comprising around 5 crore poorest of the poor people who will be provided 25 kgs of foodgrains every month at Rs. 2 per kg. for wheat and Rs. 3 per kg. for rice. The total subsidy involved in the implementation of the scheme will be around Rs. 2,300 crore for a year.The Department of Food and Public Distribution has committed itself to restructuring of PDS with focus on poor, promoting transparency in the system by social auditing by Panchayati Raj and similar social institutions.
Several measures have been initiated to improve the Public Distribution System (PDS) to serve the in the country. Steps have been undertaken to revamp the public distribution system through a six-point strategy including involvement of Panchayati Raj Institutions and setting up of Vigilance committees. Social auditing has been made an important aspect of rationing bringing transparency to the whole system. State governments have been urged to translate these objectives into practice while issuing licences to fair price shops and bringing them under the purview of Essential Commodities Act.
The quantity of foodgrains distributed to the Below Poverty Line (BPL) section of the population under the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) has been doubled from 10 kg. per family per month to 20 kg. per family per month at 50 per cent of the economic cost. The scheme, benefits about 33 crore of our people.
Food security has been attempted through a system of procurement of foodgrains, their storage, movement, public distribution and maintenance of buffer stock. Adequate buffer stock is an essential element of the National Food Policy. Foodgrains in buffer is necessary not only to impart inter-seasonal stability to foodgrains supply and prices but also to meet emergent situations arising out of unexpected reduction in crop area, natural disaster etc. Foodgrains procurement is on the Minimum Support Price (MSP) offered by the Government. Rice is also being procured under levy from rice millers/dealers at prices announced separately for each State.
The department has announced a national policy on handling, storage and transportation of foodgrains to reduce storage losses. The objective of the policy is to harness efforts and resources of public and private sectors (both domestic and foreign) to build and operate infrastructure for bulk handling, storage and transportation of foodgrains in the country. The work of assessing statewise requirement of storage facility including warehouses and silos is in progress. It is expected that 200 more warehouses will be built in the country to meet the storage requirements.
The issue prices of wheat and rice for distribution under TPDS will provide wheat at Rupees 4.15 per kg. for a BPL family while those Above Poverty Line (APL) will get it at Rupees 8.3 per kg. Rice will be sold at Rupees 5.65 and at Rupees 11.3 per kg. for BPL and APL sections, respectively.
The Central issue prices of common rice for APL families in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, North-Eastern States, Sikkim and hilly areas of UP have been reduced from Rupees 1,130 per quintal to Rupees 1,087 per quintal.
Wheat prices in the Open Market Sales Scheme were revised for various zones enabling State governments to avail of the scheme and buy the stocks in bulk for supply through PDS to APL families at a price which is less than the prevailing PDS rates for APL.
The Government has also introduced a scheme called the Sarvpriya Scheme, under which 11 items of daily use are regularly distributed to the public through 4.5 lakh fair price outlets in the country. This scheme would result in a monthly saving of about rupees 50 to 60 for families on the purchase of such items.
The Annapurna Scheme was announced by the Finance Minister in his Budget Speech for the year 1999-2000 to provide food security to those indigent senior citizens who are not covered under the targeted Public Distribution System (PDS) and who have no income of their own. Through this scheme, launched in April1,2000, it is intended to provide 10 kgs. of foodgrains per month free of cost to all such persons who are though eligible for old age pension under the National Old Age Pension Scheme (NOAPS), are presently not receiving it. The Gram Panchayat would identify, prepare and display a list of such persons after giving wide publicity to the Scheme.
The NOAPS, which was launched in 1995, provides pension at the rate of Rs.75 per month to destitutes aged 65 years and above. However, all indigent senior citizens are not covered under the scheme.
The total number of beneficiaries during 2000-2001 for National Old Age Pension Scheme in the country is worked out at approximately 68.81 lakh. This would imply that 13.76 lakh beneficiaries would be eligible for coverage under the Annapurna Scheme. An amount of Rs.100 crore has been provided in the Budget for 2000-2001 for the Scheme.
Out of Rs.100 crore Rs.99,04,76,190 has been allocated to the States/UTs. Out of this allocation, Rs.49,78,43,696 has already been released to Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Nagaland, Orissa, Rajasthan, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh and Pondicherry.
These measures to provide food security will not only tide over the present problem of rising stocks but will be the stepping stones for a long-term grains policy.