Current Public Administration Magazine (April - 2014) - "Society and Culture"

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Society and Culture


The presently operating Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) caters to all households in India and can thus be said to have universal coverage. However these households/beneficiaries are treated differently on the basis of their income. The entire household population is broadly classified into two income groups, those above the officially accepted poverty line are categorized as above poverty line or APL households; and those households below the poverty line or BPL households. Moreover there exists a sub-category of the BPL households who constitute the “poorest of the poor” and who are categorized as the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) households consisting of the old and destitute population usually uncared for and abandoned by the younger members of the family. Left to fend for themselves they are most vulnerable requiring special treatment and assistance. The AAY category is thus provided their entitlements at specially subsidized prices, which are considerably lower than the subsidized prices fixed for the BPL households.

While the APL group is provided a fixed monthly entitlement at prices that cover „economic costs‟ thereby not involving any subsidy, the BPL households are provided a monthly entitlement of 35 kg of cereals and a fixed monthly entitlement of other essential commodities such as sugar and K-oil at subsidized prices significantly lower than economic cost. The AAY beneficiaries are also provided a fixed entitlement of 35 kg of food grain at specially subsidized rates of Rs 2 per kg of wheat and Rs 3 per kg of rice. It is important to mention that all the different household categories of beneficiaries covered by the TPDS are effectively protected from open market prices, which normally rule at higher levels as compared to economic cost. Under the distribution system food grains and other essential commodities are allocated to the state governments on the basis of officially accepted poverty ratios. According to these accepted poverty ratios, the Central Government estimates that there are as many as 65 million poor households in the country spread over different states and Union Territories. The states in turn distribute the Centrally allocated food grains according to its BPL list. There is a problem here as the BPL list of most states adds up to a 100 million poor households far in excess of the estimates provided by the Central Government.

The glaring discrepancy is entirely on account of the different methodology followed by the Central and state governments for estimating the number of BPL households in a state. This intractable problem can only be solved if a common methodology agreed upon by both the Central Government and the states is used for the identification of beneficiaries, as the „errors of inclusion‟ can be as important as the „errors of exclusion‟ in order to ensure effective targeting. Major Concerns Regarding the PDS and Suggestions for Improving it’s Functioning One of the major problems of the PDS is its penetration and effectiveness to reach the target groups in most parts of the country. Access is thus limited and it is able to meet only a limited proportion of the monthly food grain consumption. Although its effectiveness in the Southern and North Eastern States has improved over the years, it has hardly made any impact in some of the poorer States such as Bihar, Assam and Uttar Pradesh and displays marked regional disparities.

The reports of the High Level Committee on Long-term Grain Policy (GoI: 2002) and the Performance Evaluation of the Targeted Public Distribution System (PEO, Planning Commission, 2005) have highlighted some major problems in the present TPDS. These are high exclusion errors due to the improper identification of beneficiaries, the non-viability of fair price shops, its inability to effectively carry out the price stabilization function and high levels of leakages and diversion of grain to the open market. There are yet other discrepancies in the distribution system such as irregular and infrequent supply of food grains by fair price shops, the inefficiency of the Food Corporation of India, the lack of a proper system of inspection of entitlements, low margins and lack of profitability for fair price shops.

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Suggestions for Improvement

There are several measures that are required to be taken for improving the effectiveness of the procurement and distribution system. The most critical among these are:

1. The decentralization of procurement and distribution has become necessary to improve and strengthen the PDS.

2. A greater and more active involvement of the panchayats in the PDS can significantly improve access at the village level.

3. A comprehensive review of the functioning of the FCI and the modernization of its operations is overdue and the greater involvement of cooperatives, self help groups, and other community organizations in procurement as well as distribution should be a top priority.

4. Improving the turnover and margins of fair price shops, provision of credit to enable regular lifting and sale of supplies, and the regular monitoring of retail sales is necessary for effectively tackling and plugging diversion as well as other malpractices such as adulteration.

5. Concerted efforts are needed for computerization of records, and the issue of smart cards to beneficiaries is essential for greater accountability and transparency.

6. Evolving a comprehensive criterion for the selection of agencies and individuals for retail FPS operation, and the strictest enforcement of these criteria would significantly improve effectiveness of the retail network.

7. Improving storage space, and the introduction of properly and regularly calibrated weighing equipment in fair price shops has become essential both for maintaining regular and uninterrupted supplies and efficient sale.

8. There is also an urgent need to set up a proper and effective grievances redressal system for both the fair price shops as well as beneficiaries

9. There is also an urgent need to enforce appropriate penalties and punishment for defaulters.

10. The bar coding of bags containing the food grain and sugar released by the FCI will go a long way in tracking movement of supplies right down to the retail or FPS level, and also effectively check the diversion of supplies. The inspectorate has to be appropriately equipped with the means of modern mobile surveillance for enhanced monitoring and vigilance.

11. The number of retail outlets should be seriously reviewed by each state government and the emphasis should be on an appropriate number of well equipped and financially viable fair price shops rather than a proliferation of non-functional outlets supposedly licensed for providing location convenience to beneficiaries.

Nutrition Programmes

The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and the Mid-day Meal Scheme (MDMS) are two major initiatives for improving the level of nutrition. These programmes are well established, popular, and comprehensively designed. These schemes have universal coverage and cater to the entire population in all regions and states.

The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS)

The main objective of the ICDS is the holistic development of children up to the age of six years with a very special focus on children up to the age of two years. It also caters to expectant and locating mothers. These objectives are attempted to be achieved through the provision of a package of services such as basic health check-ups, immunization, referral services, supplementary feeding, non-formal pre-school education, and the required advice on essential health practices and nutrition. These services are made available through a wide network of childcare centres popularly known as „Anganwadis‟. In spite of its expansion and popularity over the last three decades its impact has been limited. It is seen that the problem of child and maternal malnutrition still persists. Child malnutrition has not declined significantly and it is reported that anemia among children and women has increased with as many as one-third of all adult women being undernourished. The services have also had a limited coverage and outreach. The solution thus lies in increasing its coverage to ensure effective universalization, changing and improving its design, and planning its effective implementation in order to achieve its objectives (GoI, 2008).

Measures to Improve the ICDS

A very comprehensive set of suggestions for the improvement of ICDS has been made by N.C. Saxena, an experienced civil servant and renowned scholar (Saxena N.C., 2011). These suggestions, which are very comprehensive as well as administratively feasible, are as follows Malnutrition starts to set in quite fast among children aged six to twelve months and adequate precautions need to be taken at an early stage. It is thus suggested that the focus should now shift to children aged less than two years. There should be increased spending on infant and young child nutrition during the first 24 months when malnutrition is most frequent and adversely affects the very foundations of life and development. Increased targets for breast-feeding should be set for each centre and closely monitored by independent sources. Proper rehabilitation facilities similar to the Nutrition Rehabilitation Centres should be made available at the PHCs at the district level and ICDS workers should be made responsible for identifying children and mothers suffering severe malnutrition and referring them to these centres.

Each centre must have the necessary minimum infrastructure and equipment for providing effective services. A proper guideline for infrastructure should be evolved and a checklist of facilities which include proper weighing and measuring scales, storage facilities, drinking water, child friendly toilets, medicine kits and a separate kitchen shed should be prepared. Two freshly cooked meals (breakfast and lunch) should be provided. This food should be prepared under hygienic conditions and proper supervision. Prepared at the anganwadi, the meals should be based on locally available nutritious ingredients. The supply of packaged foods must be avoided as it is not popular with children and their procurement is likely to lead to various kinds of corruption and diversion.

For children who are below the age of three years take home rations (THR) should be provided. These rations should be carefully composed, locally procured and prepared. Weaning foods are also essential and the budget for this should be significantly increased. Supplementary feeding should be accompanied by proper nutritional counseling, adequate nutrition and health education and simple home based interventions such as always boiling drinking water. These are essential for ensuring infection free growth and development. The programme needs local involvement and control to maintain and sustain services of good quality. It is therefore essential to involve the active participation and control of panchayats and other community groups. States must ensure that the anganwadi workers are selected out of eligible persons by the gramsabha; it would also be desirable to appoint local persons who would be accountable and regular in her duties.

A comprehensive criteria needs to be evolved for the grading and accreditation of anganwadi centres. This should be coordinated by the panchayat and involve the participation of mothers committees and community groups. Accreditation can be used to provide rewards and incentives for performance. This will also attract more young mothers and their children to participate in the programme and enhance its outreach and coverage while inducing other centres to improve their status and performance.

A special component should be included and expanded catering to the special need of adolescent girls. They should be universally screened and periodically weighed. There progress should be closely monitored and evaluated according to three age groups namely girls in the 10- 15 age group, those between 16-19 years, and those who are pregnant. They should also be provided with the appropriate food that contains essential micronutrients and iron. Similar services should be provided to all women in their childbearing age.

Children of migrant workers should not be excluded from ICDS and they should be admitted and be allowed to use all the services provided in the ICDS. Data should also be disaggregated at the ICDS level for enrollment and actual coverage, to reflect the number and proportion of disabled children and of children from vulnerable local SC and ST communities. Exclusion of children from vulnerable communities is unacceptable and should be panelized. State governments should be firmly directed to cover all urban slums within a period of two years. Prefabricated structures should be developed to enable the programme to function in unauthorized slum settlements or construction and brick kiln sites. In rural areas ICDS centres on a priority basis should be set up within a year in all Primitive Tribal Group Settlements and marginalized SC settlements without any minimum ceiling on the number of children they contain.

The same is suggested for all other hamlets with more than 50 percent SCs, STs or minority population within a maximum of two years. In all these centres ICDS staff should be local to the relevant communities and two hot meals should be served instead of one to children aged three to six years with double weaning food provided to children under three. These specially located ICDS centres should extend their nutrition and health services to all categories of single women and not restrict these services to only expectant and lactating mothers as presently practiced in the programme.

The Mid Day Meal Scheme (MDMS)

This scheme provides a free cooked meal to primary school children of government, government aided and schools run by local bodies. This scheme is Centrally assisted with the State Governments making some contributions towards the cost of cooking the meal provided. The MDMS launched in 1995 with the Central Government providing free foodgrains while the costs of cooking the meal was entirely borne by the state governments. However, due to inadequate funding, some state governments resorted to distributing foodgrains instead of providing cooked mid day meals. Under the orders of Supreme Court, the scheme was revised as well as universalized in 2004 to provide a cooked mid day meal containing atleast 300 calories and 8 to 12 grams of protein to all children in the government and government aided primary schools. The scheme was extended to upper primary schools from October 2007. Though the scheme is considered to be popular and successful, it is faced with several problems. In 2005-06, of the grain allocated by the Central Governments based on estimates of enrollments and attendance, the state governments lifted only 76.8 percent. This implies that either all the institutions or children entitled to the MDM were not fully covered. It could also imply that providing insufficient quantity of food compromised the stipulated quality of the meal. or it could also mean that meals were not provided on all working days. The problem faced by the scheme thus mainly relate to quality, quantity and irregularity of the mid day meal that is provided to children.

The other important problems relating to the scheme were reflected in the performance audit report on the Mid Day Meal Scheme by the CAG of India (CAG: 2008). This report found that many states resort to over reporting the enrolment while estimating their demand for funds. The report mentions that there is no system of cross checking the enrolment data furnished by the state governments. It was also indicated that in most states children were not provided micronutrient supplements or de-worming medicines.

The provision for the regular monitoring and evaluation as well as inspections in the scheme designed were not effectively followed nor any lessons learned and measures initiated to correct the observed flaws. It was also reported that the undesirable involvement of teachers in supervising the cooking and serving of the meal resulted in detraction from their teaching responsibilities through less of teaching hours. The other problems that the scheme is faced with are the lack of adequate infrastructure for the clean and hygienic functioning of the programme, improper and unsafe storage of food and other cooking ingredients, as well as low and adulterated quality of materials used. This serious neglect of quality and hygiene has recently even led to the sickness and death of school children.

Suggestions for Improving the MDMS

Keeping in mind the various flaws and shortcomings of this important nutritional intervention, the following suggestions are being made for its improvement. The local community, the PRIs and NGOs, must manage the MDMS and should not be contractor-driven.

Sensitize senior teachers and supervisory staff on nutrition, hygiene, and cleanliness and safety norms so that the defects are detected and corrected promptly. Nutrition experts should be required to plan low cost nutritionally balanced menu and for periodic testing of samples of prepared food.

Promote the use of locally grown and procured nutritionally rich food items such as leafy vegetables and pulses. This may be supplemented by promoting kitchen gardens in the school premises with the active assistance and support of the concerned state government, department or line agency.

The provision of cooking costs should be increased to Rs 3 per child and this revised norm must be inflation-linked so that it is constantly reviewed. Proper infrastructure for the MDMS should be mandatory, including cooking sheds, storage space, clean drinking water and proper cooking utensils. The MDMS should be integrated with the school health services and must include immunization, de-worming, growth monitoring, health check-ups and micronutrient supplementation.

Active community participation in vigilance and monitoring of the MDMS must be encouraged and strengthened in order to prevent corruption and ensure quality. The involvement of the panchayat and local parents must be ensured in this regard.

Status regarding supplies, available funds, stipulated norms and the weekly menu must be mandatorily and prominently displayed in order to be inspected by anyone who wishes to. This will ensure a high level of transparency regarding the programme.

In the event of any act of social discrimination in the MDMS, which may be detected or reported to the authorities, serious and prompt action must be taken after due and proper investigation by a competent authority.
The regular social audit of the MDMS and its concurrent monitoring by independent agencies must be carried out.

The National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme

Rural works programmes are now widely recognized as important instruments in the strategy for poverty alleviation and hunger through employment generation. They enhance the purchasing capacity and this is expected to increase the access to food.

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 (MGNREGA) was notified in September 2005. The Act‟s mandate is to provide at least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a financial year to every rural household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.

The major goals of the Act are: To provide social protection to the most vulnerable people living in rural India by providing employment opportunities.

Livelihood security for the poor through the creation of durable assets, improved water security, soil conservation and higher land productivity.

Drought proofing and flood management in rural India. Empowerment of the socially disadvantaged especially women, SCs and STs through the processes of a rights-based legislation.

Strengthening decentralized participatory planning through the convergence of various antipoverty and livelihood initiatives.

Deepening democracy at the grassroots by strengthening Panchayati Raj Institutions. Bringing about greater transparency and accountability in governance.

The MGNREGA is thus a powerful instrument for ensuring inclusive growth in rural India through its impact on social protection, democratic empowerment and livelihood security. The Act was initially notified in a limited number of districts but at present extended to all districts in the country with the exception of those that have an entirely urban population. The MGNREGA is the largest employment programme in the world unlike any other wage employment programme in its scale and architecture. Its bottom-up, demand-driven, self-targeted and rights-based design is unprecedented. The Act ensures a legal guarantee for unskilled wage employment. Work is provided by the demand for work by wage seekers and not on any other consideration. The Act also provides legal provisions and allowances for failure to provide work on demand and also for delay in payment of wages.

Moreover the Act overcomes problems related to identification and targeting as it is a selftargeting scheme and covers all who demand and volunteer to undertake unskilled manual labour. The Act also incentivises the states to provide work as 100 percent of the unskilled labour cost and 75 percent of the skilled labour costs and material costs are provided by the Centre. There is also a disincentive for failing to provide work, as the state has to then bear the cost of the unemployment allowance that is mandatorily provided for. With gram panchayats required to implement at least 50 percent of all works in terms of cost, there is a very high degree of financial devolution. The plan and decisions regarding the nature and choice of works, the order in which each work is to be carried out, and decisions on site selection is decentralized and decided by the gram sabha. Finally the Act breaks away from the relief-oriented programmes of the past and incorporate an integrated natural resource management and livelihoods generation perspective.

Recent official and non-official evaluations of the programme have predominantly highlighted the positive outcomes achieved by the MGNREGA. However some major problem areas have also been identified such as (i) limited coverage and underutilization of allocated programme funding (ii) slow and tardy implementation of works in some states (iii) the quality of works mainly due to limited technical competence of the gram panchayats in many areas and (iv) the significant exclusion of the old and disabled from the programme.

Suggestions for Strengthening and Improvement

Though there have been significant achievements regarding the achievement of programme objectives, there are some measures that are needed to achieve greater success and impact. These are:

Special efforts are needed to disseminate a much higher level of awareness regarding the rights based entitlements of the programme among the rural population. This is most essential for improving the penetration and coverage of the programme in many states. Additional outlays are essential for IEC and other activity to increase awareness.

There is also a need to strengthen the technical competence at the gram panchayat level by involving professional agencies and competent NGOs to train and guide panchayat members to improve the design of works that are identified for implementation. Additional outlays earmarked for this purpose should be provided.

There is an urgent need to cover the old, infirm and destitute and physically handicapped rural population by not only identifying the kind of work that they can undertake but also by increasing for them the present 100 days of assured work to at least 150 days in a year. Special job cards should be issued for this purpose.

A higher work entitlement for 150 days should also be provided to single women and women headed households.


In its brief introduction, this paper highlights the widely accepted definition of food security. The first section that lays out the broad contours of food security in India by providing an overview that sets the overall framework for our discussion follows this. Food Security is determined by the availability of food, the access to food and the absorption (or nutrition) of food in the system. These three conditionalities for food security are closely inter-related and thus availability and access to food can increase absorption or nutritional levels among the households. In the second segment of the paper, an attempt has been made to analyze the broad trends and performance related to availability. It is seen that in spite of India having achieved selfsufficiency in cereals it is still lagging behind in the production of pulses and oilseeds. It is also observed that there has been a significant increase in the production of fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meat, poultry and fishery products. However per capita availability of these are still far lower than international and national norms and standards. The trends in availability appear not to be improving as required solely on account of the stagnation of the agricultural sector. An attempt has been thus made to identify the major constraints and deficiencies in agricultural growth and specific suggestions have been put forward for improving the performance of the agricultural sector and to enhance the growth rate so that it is capable of meeting the food and nutritional requirement that have been projected in the next decade. Among the specific suggestions made to lift the agricultural sector from its present slowdown and stagnation, we have highlighted increased public investment and a serious review of subsidies provided to farmers. To boost infrastructure, expansion of credit, and essential inputs, land and water management, agricultural research and extension, effective marketing and price policies, the diversification of agriculture, the strengthening of institutions catering to these needs, strengthening the mitigation strategies for tackling climate change, and the strict regulation of land use and diversion of land for nonagricultural

In the next segment of this paper, focus has been shifted to the trends and performance in Access to Food and absorption/Nutrition. It is seen that there has been a perceptible decline in the levels of hunger among households; there has also been a significant lowering of the households below the poverty line. Both these trends indicate an improvement in access to food. Though there has been an improvement in urban employment the situation in rural areas is still seen to be far from satisfactory. Moreover, there has also been a noticeable increase in the number of landless labourers in the rural sector accompanied by a decline in real wages, which has affected the level of access to food in the rural as compared to the urban sector. Access to the PDS which contributes to overall access to food has generally shown an increase in practically all the regions this has been an encouraging trend, however it is also seen that the access to the PDS is still low in many states and regions.

While the performance in terms of access to food has shown an overall improvement the trends in nutrition have been far from satisfactory especially for the rural poor. The nutritional statuses particularly of children and women have not improved while the nutrition status among socially vulnerable groups of women has worsened.

An assessment of the programmes for Access to Food and Nutrition has been attempted in the final section of this paper. This section also makes a large number of suggestions for the improvement of these programmes that are intended to not only improve access to food but also to have an effective impact on the levels and status of nutrition. This part of the paper has a closer look at the TPDS, the ICDS, the MDMS as well as MGNREGA to identify the major shortcomings with these schemes and also to suggest specific measures and reforms in each of them to improve their effectiveness and impact which is most essential for ensuring food security.

The constraints in ensuring food security and reducing hunger are due to inappropriate policy, faulty design, the inadequacies in monitoring and evaluation, ineffective governance and a lack of political will. Economic growth alone is not sufficient to improve food security, reduction in malnutrition and the improvement of food intake by the poor. Without widespread reforms on various fronts and the required changes in policy coupled with an improvement in the effectiveness of implementation food security will continue to remain a daunting challenge. Sustainable development results from efficient institutions and thus the stress on development funding must now increasingly focus on development outcomes and the effectiveness of public service delivery. The indicators of hunger among marginalized groups and of 300 million poor must be improved. This not only requires additional resources but also more effective policies and a strong delivery system.

India has designed and implemented a very wide range of programmes to enhance food security and has also succeeded to a remarkable extent however severe challenges remain on several fronts. However, the major problem is with the proper design and implementation of policies and programmes. There is in particular the urgent need to address governance issues specially those related to effective and efficient public service delivery systems. Governance needs to conform closely to the socio-economic environment and appropriate institutions are needed to improve the governance system. A people-centric and rights-based approach has shown remarkable results in the case of rural employment. It has brought about increasing transparency and accountability among those responsible for the implementation of MGNREGA. A similar approach is being visualized for Food Security and though the National Food Security Act would burden the State and strain its exchequer it is a move in the right direction. The Act is likely to bring about a much higher level of commitment on the part of the states to meet their statutory obligations regarding food security and bringing about reform efforts on several fronts related to the food system. These reforms are necessary for India‟s rapid growth and development free of social and economic instability in the years ahead.

Source- ANIL CHANDY ITTYERAH, Professor of Economics, Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi


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