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

'Modi govt's assault on dissent': Foreign funds of top finance NGO blocked

By Rajiv Shah  In a surprise move, the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, has cancelled the foreign funding license of the well-known advocacy group, Centre for Financial Accountability (CFA), known for critically examining India's finance and banking sectors from human rights and environmental angle.

Misleading ads 'manipulate, seduce, lure' to market unhealthy harmful food

By Our Representative  The Nutrition Advocacy in Public Interest (NAPI) in its new report “50 Shades of Food Advertising” has sought to expose how seductive, luring, manipulative or deceptive these advertisements can be. Consequences of such advertising are increased intake of unhealthy food products that is associated with obesity and diabetes, it says. 

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

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.

'Failure of governance': India, China account for 54% pollution-related deaths globally

By Vikas Parsaram Meshram*   A recent report jointly prepared by UNICEF and the independent research organization Health Effects Institute has been released, and the statistics within it are alarming. It states that in 2021, air pollution caused the deaths of 2.1 million Indians, including 169,000 children who hadn't yet fully experienced life. These figures are indeed distressing and raise questions about why there hasn't been more serious effort in this direction, putting policymakers to shame. 

August 9 to be observed as Corporates Quit India day: Top farmers' group

By Our Representative A recent general body meeting of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), the top farmers' organisation, stated hat "there is no need for any illusion of change in the pro-corporate policies of the BJP-NDA government" following the recent elections in which BJP failed to achieve even simple majority. It insisted,  Prime Minister Narendra Modi "is hell bent" to continue 'business as usual' policies.

Over 3.8 billion animals at risk: India on crossroad in animal welfare practices

By Rupali Soni*  In a collaborative effort, the India Animal Fund and Dasra have unveiled their report , "Our Shared Future | Securing Animal Welfare, Human Wellbeing, and Sustainability in India." This landscape report provides a thorough overview of animal welfare and underscores its indispensable role within India's socio-economic and ecological frameworks. It also illustrates how animal welfare is intricately intertwined with public health, labor welfare, and climate resilience.

Belgian report alleges MNC Etex responsible for asbestos pollution in Madhya Pradesh town Kymore: COP's Geneva meet

By Our Representative A comprehensive Belgian report has held MNC Etex , into construction business and one of the richest, responsible for asbestos pollution in Kymore, an industrial town in in Katni district of Madhya Pradesh. The report provides evidence from the ground on how Kymore’s dust even today is “annoying… it creeps into your clothes, you have to cough it”, saying “It can be deadly.”

Women's emancipated under Mao: Girl completed primary school, began working in farm collective

By Harsh Thakor*  The book “New Women in New China”, a collection of articles projecting dramatic transformation -- political and economic -- in the status of Chinese women after liberation, originally published in 1972, and reprinted in 2023 by the Foreign Languages Press, Beijing, encompasses the period between 1949 and 1972, seeking to give justice to the subject of women’s emancipation in China after the 1949 revolution.