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FOOD SECURITY IN INDIA: ISSUES AND SUGGESTIONS FOR EFFECTIVENESS
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.
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
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.
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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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