February 2, 2016 7:22:26 pm
Even as food and civil supplies minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama, in response to the Supreme Court rap on Monday, declared that the Gujarat government was ready to implement the Food Security Act by April this year, the state is yet to ready the basic infrastructure for its implementation.
The government had sought extension till March 2016 to implement the act. However the delay in implementation was not without its share of politics.
The Gujarat government’s history with the non-implementation of the National Food Security Act (NFSA) goes back to August 2013 when the then chief minister and Narendra Modi had written to then prime minister Manmohan Singh severely criticizing the act, then an ordinance, for not taking the states into confidence and pre-deciding the number of macro beneficiaries. He had also said that it sought to reduce the foodgrains to be supplied to an average family of 5 persons from 35 kgs to 25 kgs.
He was referring to the Antyodaya Anna Yojana launched by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee led NDA government in 2000, where 35 kgs of food grain was being supplied to an average family of five members. Beneficiaries covered the BPL families who would be provided rice at Rs 3/kg and wheat at Rs 2/kg under this scheme.
The Gujarat government under Modi supported the NFSA just before the Lok Sabha elections, and when the government changed at the centre, it sought an extension of the deadline to implement it.
Given that the state has its systems in place, and is among the few states to have computerized its Public Distribution System, it is better placed to effect the law.
One of the critical aspects, which even Modi worried about as chief minister here, is the number of beneficiaries and their definition.
As part of the procedure of implementing the NFSA the Gujarat government has sought to do away with the categories like ‘Below Poverty Line and Above Poverty line’ and instead qualify beneficiaries based on the 2011 socio economic and caste census, with different set of guidelines for rural and urban families. The re-definition of beneficiaries will be income and asset based and is likely to integrate all existing food security schemes.
The current PDS system runs on the 2001 census. Under the new definition the number of beneficiaries is likely to go up from the current 23 lakh families to over 60 lakh families.
The state has come under repeated flak for its bad record of malnutrition among children. In 2014, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had said in its report that every third child in the state was underweight and that the supplementary nutrition programmes had failed to cover all beneficiaries.
The situation improved subsequently with the number of malnourished kids dropping from 13.3 lakh in 2011-12 to 9.07 lakh in 2013-14. The reactions to health and nutrition, in Gujarat has been knee jerk. When Anandi Patel took over, she introduced the sukhdi a Gujarati sweetmeat made of wheat flour, jaggery and ghee as part of the midday meal.
However, as recently as December last, a survey conducted under the Gujarat government’s own Kuposhan Mukt Gujarat Maha Abhiyaan identified more than 1.45 lakh children of the 43 lakh screened till then, under the age of six years in the state in the worst category of malnutrition — Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM), according to state health officials.
Although bureaucrats in Gujarat are upset that the state was singled out though there were seven other states that had not complied with NFSA, the fact remains that the state also needs to become a model in the social sector. The line between politics and reality needs to be drawn out clearly.
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