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Editorial

World’s largest grain subsidy

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By EMN Updated: Sep 21, 2013 10:21 pm
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[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Food Security Scheme for Mizoram has been formally launched in Aizawl on Friday by UPA Chairperson, Sonia Gandhi at a public rally. She reiterated that it would cater to the needs of lakhs of poor people across the country. The scheme would ensure that lakhs of malnourished and hungry people would now be able to avail food at an extremely low price in the country.In its struggle to arrest the economic slide Parliament has approved the world’s largest subsidized food programme, a 20 billion Dollar a year scheme that will benefit up to 870 million Indians. The programme will provide 5 kgs of subsidized grain or person each month to 67 % of the population. It proposes free meals for pregnant women and lactating mothers, children aged between six months and fourteen years, malnourished children, and destitute and homeless people.
The legislation has, however, divided economists and poverty alleviation experts, India has a moral obligation to ensure no citizen goes hungry, after almost a decade of record growth. Unfortunately, up to 40% of subsidized grain under existing programmes is reportedly pilfered and sold for private profit. Some critics also voice certain misgivings like for instance, subsidizing grains at the expense of other equally related nutritious food.
The average annual growth rate of India was 8.5% between 2003 and 2010. This was very encouraging but the country still has one of the highest rates of child malnutrition and ranks 65th out of 79 countries on the Global Hunger Index (GHI). Since the global financial crisis bit in 2009, India’s slowest growth rate was posted. The rupee has tumbled 20 per cent since May this year.
Whatever the differences between the experts, the fact remains that the costs of not investing in the better nourishment of millions of people would be much more. Growth cannot be sustained much longer on the thin shoulders of hungry people.
The one main bone of contention is that Government figures suggest that 22% of the population live below poverty line (BPL) but the new policy aims to provide subsidized grain to 67% or over three times that number. Even if the Government figures were doubled to 44% the new policy would be supposedly catering for an extra 300 million people.
No wonder certain quarters see the Food Security Bill as the ruling Congress party’s last ditch effort to woo voters ahead of Lok Sabha elections scheduled for May 2014.
The Food Security Bill is not about whether adequate funds are available but that they have to be found. And where food matters are concerned even the major Congress political rival the BJP has been rather wary although its Members in Parliament did put forth some objections and even suggestions but did not outrightly reject it. For, who will dare to oppose something that will benefit such a large number of the population?
Where Nagaland is concerned vis-à-vis food security, it may be noted that hardly anyone lives without a paddy field. Yet we have a large segment still living below the poverty line because they have little or no access to other related nutritious foodstuffs. Here the civil supply department must gird up its loins and ensure the right quantity for the deserving people unlike in the past where there have been reports of tendency for some pilferage by the employees concerned.
Besides, it would not be too presumptuous to suggest that the old age homes which the government is sponsoring, as also the various orphanages should be encouraged to come within the ambit of the food security scheme since these are largely dependent on government and public largesse.
Under BJP-led NDA rule which completed its full tenure, pulse polio immunization (PPI) was initiated on a massive scale and it is still going on strong regularly reaching even to the remotest villages. Similarly, if the food security scheme can reach the grassroots successfully, India will score a world record on taking care of its citizens.

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By EMN Updated: Sep 21, 2013 10:21:38 pm