Positive discrimination needed to address exclusion in food scheme: Rajkishor Mishra

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Government of Odisha has taken a very significant decision to bring it’s own food security scheme to include almost 34.44 excluded people from National Food Security Act. However the process of selecting the real beneficiaries will be extremely important. Pradeep Baisakh, Senior Editor, Orissa Diary speaks to Rajkishor Mishra, Director, Rupayaan and former state advisor to the Supreme Court Commissioners on Right to Food.

 OD: Tell us about Odisha Government’s decision to bring its own Food Security Scheme.

RM: On 28th July honourable Chief Minister of Odisha has announced to start State’s own Food Security Scheme which got Cabinet’s approval on 30th July 2018. The scheme will start from 2nd October 2018. At the outset it is a good decision taken by the State Government to utilize its own resources to cover all poor, distressed and eligible beneficiaries who have been left out of National Food Security Act-2013. As per the official statement, a total of 34.44 lakh people will be included under the State Food Security Scheme. In the first phase 25 lakh people will be included.

OD: National Food Security Act is an act passed by the parliament of India. Therefore it is the responsibility of Central Government to provide food grains to all eligible households. Then why there is this exclusion of eligible households?

RM: Yes, National Food Security Act is an act of the Parliament and it covers four major schemes like Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), Integrated Child Development, Mid Day Meal and Maternity Benefit schemes. The act also talks about many other aspects in its schedule III to ensure food and nutrition security. It is true that the primary responsibility lies with the Central Government; however the State also has a role and also financial contribution in all the above schemes.

NFSA categorized beneficiaries in Priority Household (PHH) and Antodaya Anya Yojana (AAY) and identification of these household was responsibility of state. Every state has to identify beneficiaries entitled to get food grain, based on the identification methodology developed and adopted by them; however the catch was that the number of such individuals should not increase the cap as decided by the central Government. Basis for calculating Total number of persons to be covered in such rural and urban areas of the State was population estimates as per the census of which the relevant figures have been published i.e census 2011. Government of India fixed the number of beneficiaries under NFSA at 82.17% of rural population and 55.77% of urban population for Odisha which translates to 77% of total population of state. The upper limit of PDS beneficiaries in Odisha was fixed at 326.41 Lakh based on Government on the basis of population and in accordance to the Sub-section (2) of Section 3 of the National Food Security Act, 2013. Considering the fact that all district in the state are not equal in terms of development, the percentage of SC & ST concentration in the district was taken as weight age for determination of limits of NFSA for rural and urban areas of Odisha. Districts with less than 30 percentage of SC & ST population as per Census 2011 were given a limit equal to 95 percentage of target population. Similarly, for districts having more than 50% SC & ST population, 105% of the target population was taken. For rest districts, the target population as per GoI norm was kept intact.

As the basis of calculating these percentages was Census 2011 and the population growth has not been considered it has led to exclusion of many individuals. Based on the demographic growth of last decade, the State Government came up with a figure of 34.44 lakh exclusion. However, the State Government must understand that even though population growth is the major reason for exclusion but there are many other reasons too.

OD: You have written a letter to the honourable Chief Minister; tell us about that?

RM: Based on our experience of working across the State of Odisha on food and nutrition security, we thought it is the appropriate time to put forth key issues before the State Government before it rolls out its own Food Security Scheme. We congratulate the honourable Chief Minister of Odisha, honourable Minister of Food Supplies and Consumer Welfare for finally brining own scheme after the centre remained silent to the requests of the State. In fact we have been raising these issues since NFSA came into force. We sincerely hope, the Government will consider these suggestions and make its scheme more effective.

 

OD: What issues you have raised in this letter?

RM: While we stand by the State Government’s decision, we have put forward some caution and the reasons of exclusion in NFSA and requested to consider them while framing selection procedure for state scheme.

Apart from population growth there are many reasons. One such is identification of eligible individuals. The Socio Economic Caste Census was used for identification of ineligible households however; the nodal department Food Security and Consumer Welfare Department (letter no 15682 dated 10.08.2015) has itself acknowledged the data being not completely correct and had directed the district to treat the data with caution. Therefore we should be cautioned while using the data set so that it does not create further exclusion error.

The other major reasons for exclusion within the state have been the intra state allotment made following simple rule of aggregate ST and SC population and ignoring multiple deprivation factors like migration at district level. This created a paradox where districts like Balasore, Boudh, Jajpur, Kalahandi and Nuapada came in the same bracket of 100% (i.e. 77% of total population). Nuapada districts has more OBC population compared to ST and SC combine and they are equally poor and have been migrating seasonally, however while allocating quota we are keeping the district at par with Jajpur and Balasore. This has created problem at both the area – exclusion error in Nupada and probably inclusion error in Balasore and Jajpur. Further, there is no clear guideline for intra district allotment – for example in Kalahandi district’s tribal dominated blocks like Thuamul Rampur, Lanjigarh were treated at par with irrigated blocks like Junagarh, Jaipatna which puts tribal regions in to disadvantage position. We had requested the State Government to develop a rational for this, unless which the exclusion and inclusion error will continue within a particular district among different blocks.

OD: There is a common perception that subsidized food will make people lazy, it is like a freebee and waste of tax payers’ money. Some other say that Odisha Govt’s decision reflects development has not happened as claimed; your opinion on this?

RM: Firstly it is not a common perception. It is the perception of a few middle class and upper middle class people. Common perception is that what 77% TPDS beneficiaries feel, Common perception is that what the 34 lakh people feels. Coming to the point that subsidized rice makes people lazy is absolutely fallacious and misleading. There is no evidence or research on this. Almost all the States in India are providing subsidized rice, and then the Nation could have become lazy. Further, how can it be a waste of tax payer’s money? In a democratic set up it is the constitutional duty of the State to ensure food and nutrition for its Citizens. Interestingly, when it comes to providing basic facilities like food, health and education people say why it has not done in last so many years, why there is no employment, why there are no industries, so on and so forth. We strongly feel that these are very important questions and people must ask these to the Government but not compare it with basic issues of food, health and education.

OD: What are your specific suggestions to the Government?

Considering only demographic composition for including excluded individuals will not work and the Government needs to have a positive discrimination approach.  We strongly feel that priority should be given to universalize PDS in tribal Panchayats and SC dominated Panchayats (including coastal districts) which would minimize exclusion error to a great extent. The Government has the experience of this in 2008, when it has universalized PDS in KBK districts. We suggest that households in underdeveloped districts who have already applied and having acknowledgement should be given priority while rolling out State Scheme. Further, socially vulnerable categories which state has already identified as automatic inclusion group should be given priority.

In last couple of months, there are number of cases of starvation deaths reported in media due to failure of Aadhaar based mandatory biometric authentication that led to exclusion of beneficiary from PDS. In this case, Government of Odisha must delink Aadhaar to ensure right to food of each individual in the state.

Further, the state Government must consider diversification of PDS by including Dal, Salt, edible oil, millet etc, strictly implementing transparency, accountability and grievance redresal mechanisms as well as social audits, provision for food security allowance provisions in case where state fails to provide entitlement to the beneficiary.

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