A few months ago, I had occasion to go to the ration shop to buy sugar and pulses. While making the bill, the fair price shop staff added the cost of palmolein too to it. Seeing the staff add what I had not bought, I told them that I would take that also.
The staff relented, unwillingly. Later, it became clear that such entries are made by the staff, who thereafter strike the entry and sell the product to hotels and business establishments.
It is an open secret that in Tamil Nadu that the 20 kg of rice given to those below poverty line at Re 1 a kg actually goes to hotels and road-side eateries.
Food Ministry officials can narrate stories of how foodgrains meant for the public distribution system (PDS) get diverted to hotels or even as animal feed.
It is such misuse of the PDS that makes one oppose measures such as the food security legislation. For instance, in Chhattisgarh, the legislation allows 7 kg of foodgrain a month for a person.
Rice will be given at Rs 3 a kg, wheat at Rs 2 a kg and coarse grains at Re 1 a kg to the identified beneficiaries. Other households will get at least 3 kg of foodgrain per head at 50 per cent of the minimum support price fixed by the Centre for the grain.
The legislation will cover at least 90 per cent of the population in the State.
Data indicates that 70 per cent of the people in Chhattisgarh depend on PDS. The numbers also throw light on the fact that 45 per cent of the population is below poverty line.
When the situation is such, why is Chhattisgarh trying to cover 90 per cent of the population through food subsidy?
Giving foodgrains at a subsidised rate to the identified section of the poor is fine, but why to the others or the other 45 per cent of the 90 per cent targeted by the Raman Singh Government?
The subsidy will cost the State nearly Rs 2,500 crore. How will the State offset that? Naturally, it will have to raise taxes on something. Wouldn’t this mean robbing Peter to pay Paul?
Allegations are galore of corruption in the execution of various welfare schemes. How will Chhattisgarh ensure that the foodgrains reach the targeted people? Has the State worked out any leak-proof mechanism?
The issue here is that the danger of the scheme being misused outweighs its benefits. Chhatisgarh might have set a wrong precedent for other States.
Such policies could end up filling the pockets of the wrong persons, especially with elections around the corner.
Chhattisgarh is a land of opportunities. Unfortunately, the development boom in the State has benefited only a chosen few.
It would have been in the fitness of things, had the State Government chosen to provide more job opportunities and ways to improve the livelihood of the people, rather than resort to a political gimmick, in the guise of a food security law.