Skip to main content

'Shocked, dismayed': UN official's stance against universal PDS in India opposed

Counterview Desk 

The civil rights group Right to Food Campaign (RtFC) has taken strong exception to Bishow Parajuli, India country director for United Nations World Food Programme, stating that universalising the public distribution system (PDS) is “not be feasible”, as everyone as in the country “does not need social protection.”
Insisting that all Indians must have access to a minimum income and food support, now more than ever, as the country battles its worst health crisis in living memory, the RtFC said in a statement, “Universalization is the only way to ensure that all food insecure households are covered under the PDS, given the large scale of exclusion errors in targeting.”
It adds, “The experience of states that have a universal PDS (such as Tamil Nadu) shows that the rich self-exclude themselves from accessing subsidised rations.”

Text:

The right to food campaign is shocked and dismayed to learn that in a recent interview to "Business Standard", Bishow Parajuli, United Nations World Food Programme country director in India, said that “universalising the PDS ... might not be feasible as everyone in India does not need social protection.” At a time when India is going through the world’s worst Covid-19 crisis, it needs a universal food security system more than ever.
Mr Parajuli claims that “the current targeted PDS covers almost 67 percent of India’s population, which is close to being universal if you exclude the creamy layer.” Currently, only 57 percent of the country’s population is covered under the PDS, whereas 67 percent has a legal entitlement to subsidized foodgrains under the National Food Security Act (NFSA).
Ration card quotas were distributed across states based on population figures from the 2011 Census, and have not been revised to account for the increase in population by more than 140 million people over the last decade.
It is unclear what Mr Parajuli means by the “creamy layer,” but by no stretch of imagination can it include a third of the country’s population, as he implies. India’s headcount ratio according to the Multi-Poverty Index 2020, is a whopping 28 percent. According to the Global Hunger Index 2020, the situation in India is “serious.”
The level of undernutrition amongst Indian children under five years of age is alarming; the share of underweight children under five has in fact increased from 21.6 percent in 2015-16 to 23.7 percent in 2019-20. As the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed millions of additional Indians into poverty (230 million, according to one estimate), the current level of deprivation in the country is likely to be much higher than these recent estimates.
Universalization is the only way to ensure that all food insecure households are covered under the PDS, given the large scale of exclusion errors in targeting. The experience of states that have a universal PDS (such as Tamil Nadu) shows that the rich self-exclude themselves from accessing subsidised rations. As noted by the Delhi High Court, food security households are even less likely to queue for subsidised food rations during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Experience of states that have a universal PDS (such as Tamil Nadu) shows the rich self-exclude themselves from accessing subsidised rations
Mr Parajuli rightly points out the challenges in implementing cash transfers in India, such as lack of adequate markets in rural areas and the potential of misuse. This makes a universal PDS all the more crucial, given that the country – including the villages – has a dense network of fair price shops.
Over the past year, other social security programmes – such as school midday meals, anganwadi services, and even social security pensions – were discontinued for several months. Disruptions were least in the PDS, which served as a lifeline for millions of people.
India’s current foodgrain stocks are 100 MT (including unmilled paddy and millets). This is more than adequate to universalize the PDS. The government must also include pulses and edible oil in the PDS basket, to improve levels of nutrition. We are pleased to note that Mr Parajuli acknowledges the importance of a diverse diet that includes fresh vegetables, fruits, and eggs.
These items must be included in the meals to be provided by schools and anganwadis. The government must start community kitchens across the country that serve cooked meals with these items. Existing social security programmes (such as social security pensions, NREGA, and maternity entitlements) – which have been widely disrupted over the past year – must be implemented strictly and their monitory amount must be indexed to inflation. All Indians must have access to a minimum income and food support, now more than ever, as the country battles its worst health crisis in living memory.
– Gangaram Paikra, Aysha, Kavita Srivastava, Dipa Sinha, Anuradha Talwar, Mukta Srivastava, Amrita Johri for the Right to Food Campaign

Comments

TRENDING

Why do I lend my support to voices protesting world class renovation of Gandhi Ashram?

By Martin Macwan* One would not expect an activist working on Dalit rights to join such a protest. Dalits carry unhealed trauma that Gandhi caused to Dr BR Ambedkar and the Dalit cause of effective political representation by using violent means of his own definition in the event of the Poona Pact. This apart, Gandhi’s ideas in general, which changed often, on caste were orthodox. I have nothing to add to the subject after the sharpest critique offered by Dr Ambedkar.

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Inaccurate gender-relevant data 'spoiling' government policy on Covid social impact

By Simi Mehta*  The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been different across vulnerable groups. They were hit by the pandemic at various stages, whether it was accessibility to medical treatment or financial support. The second wave witnessed human suffering at a level where one can never forget the traumatized faces of people due to the inaccessibility and unavailability of essential medical services such as hospitals beds and oxygen. The probability of the third wave has also been one of the major upcoming challenges.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Flamboyant 'demagogues' adjust politics, personality in shadow of democracy

Modi, Erdogan, Bolsonaro By Ajit Singh The terms dictators and demagogues are used interchangeably in various contexts, but there is a difference. The former rule over a totalitarian states where governments are able to exercise complete influence over every aspect of citizens’ life, whereas the latter are a "wannabe dictators" but due to the system of checks and balances they are are not fully capable to create police states.

2002 riots: Gujarat assembly 'misinformed' about dereliction of duty, says ex-DGP

By Rajiv Shah  Former Gujarat topcop RB Sreekumar, an IPS officer of the 1971 batch, has alleged that the Gujarat government gave “totally false information” on the floor of the State Assembly regarding the appeal he made to the Gujarat governor for the “initiation of departmental action against those responsible for culpable negligence in maintenance of public order and investigation of genocidal crimes” during the 2002 riots.

Celebrating birthday amidst image of 'coerced, submissive' India ruled by a strong leader

Pushkar Raj*  As the weeks long birthday festivity of the leadership was being rejoiced India wide, the Covid was still raging in several parts of India. The carnival was in line with the post-Covid decisions and actions of the leadership demonstrating a pursuit of personal power and glory instead of national interest in times of disease and death.

'Devastating impact': Rural workers suffer as Govt of India NREGA budget down by 34%

Counterview Desk  A civil rights group, the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha has sent a letter to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj stating that 34 per cent decrease in the fiscal budget of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA) for year 2021-22 has added to woes on India’s rural population, already suffering from “devastating impact” of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Catholic women warn: Kerala Bishop turning Church into puppet in political games

Counterview Desk A group of Catholic women under the banner Concerned Catholic Women of India has said that they are deeply concerned over "a bishop’s controversial statement" which may threaten communal harmony in India. As many as 89 Catholic women from across India have urged the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and its Kerala unit to take special steps to "foster peace and avoid strife."

Odisha bauxite mining project to 'devastate' life of 2,500 Adivasi, Dalit farmers: NAPM

Counterview Desk  While the public hearing on mining in Mali hills has been cancelled due to protests by Adivasi and Dalit farmers of the Mali Parbat Surakhya Samiti, Odisha, who have been protesting against the proposed bauxite mining project, India’s top civil rights network, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) has said it is “deeply concerned” at the decision of the Government of Odisha to push the project in a Schedule-V Adivasi-belt Koraput district against the interests of the people and environment.