November 9, 2020 5:48:47 am
Farmers have been protesting against the Centre’s farm laws for the past several weeks as they fear that the Minimum Support Price (MSP) of their crops will be done away with and they will be at the mercy of private players. Experts say that when 67 per cent population of the country falls under the Public Distribution System (PDS) for food grains, stopping of MSP is not even thinkable. And if the government stops MSP, then PDS will also get abolished automatically. However, doing so is not as easy as the government thinks, say experts.
Under PDS, food grains are provided to the poor at subsidised rates via around five lakh fair ration shops (ration depot) across the country. Successive governments have been trying to replace this system with cash transfers into accounts of beneficiaries of the PDS, but such projects have not been as successful.
“MSP procurement cannot be stopped in India when around 90 crore people are to be covered under PDS for food grain. Farmers of Punjab need not worry about stopping of MSP purchase because Punjab’s grain is going across the country under PDS system,” said economist Dr Sardara Singh Johal, adding that at the time of any natural calamity, the government has to distribute ration to the poor as it happened during the pandemic, and without procuring food grain on MSP, such distribution by the government is not possible.
Dr H S Sidhu, a retired economics professor from Punjab Agriculture University (PAU) Ludhiana, said stopping MSP as well as PDS is not in the overall interest of the country, especially the poor.
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“According to the National Food Security Act (NFSA), India needs to cover 67 per cent of the population under PDS including 75 per cent poor rural and 50 per cent urban poor, which works out to around 67 per cent and it is not possible without supplying food grain under PDS,” he said, adding that as for as Punjab is concerned, it is growing around 28-29 million tonnes of wheat and paddy only to contribute to the central pool, which is used at the time of any natural calamity like Covid.
The UPA government had initiated a programme of replacing food grain under PDS with cash and the NDA government too followed it. UPA had launched pilot projects in three union territories including Chandigarh, Puducherry and Dadra & Nagar Haveli, but this system could not be successful because in many cases, the cash did not reach the beneficiaries and those who got the cash could not meet their food grain demands from the market in the same amount, and majority beneficiaries were not in favour of it.
Dr Johal said that replacing PDS with the cash would lead to malnutrition in the country and beneficiaries may not meet their food demands in the same amount from open markets where rates are fluctuating.
“When 67 per cent population of the country and 50 per cent population of Punjab, which is considered as grain surplus state, are dependent on the PDS for meeting their food grain needs, stopping of MSP purchase is not possible,” said Baldev Singh, assistant professor of economics at Guru Kashi Regional Campus, Talwandi Sabo of Punjabi University Patiala, adding that MSP can be stopped only if the grain supply through PDS system is stopped in India.
“If we provide cash instead of ration, the beneficiaries may end up using this money on other needs rather purchasing food from the market and it will lead to malnutrition in the country manifold,” said Professor Singh, adding that though under PDS system.
“Scrapping of the PDS would mean promoting the MNC and corporate culture, who will hoard food items and sell to people including the poor to earn huge profits, but the government has to see the welfare of the poor when it supplies food grain under PDS, said another expert,” said Prof. Baldev Singh.
Transferring of cash cannot always be on time, which has been evident in months of delay in transferring money under various social welfare pension schemes including widow, old age and disability pension. Such a delay would deprive the poor of food, which is a basic need for survival, said Assistant Professor..
Even during the pandemic, not only BPL but the Above Poverty line (APL) group, with an income of less that Rs 1 lakh annually, were also eligible for food grains under PDS and large numbers of such families availed food under the system.
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