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How Chhattisgarh is sinking its teeth into food security

R Krishna Das 

The state beats the Centre in its food-for-all pitch, brings in an Act under which nearly 90 per cent of the population will be entitled to 35 kg of rice a month at a token price, 2 kg of pulses at Rs 5 per kg and free iodised salt. But can it ensure both quality and quantity?

It was a clear sunny winter day in December 2007 when a mammoth gathering awaited Chief Minister in the sleepy hamlet of Sonakhan, about 100 km from the state capital, Raipur. The place has had a long history of hunger, malnutrition and deprivation. Singh’s speech was simple but the message was clear. From now on, not a single person in will die of starvation, Singh claimed. Not many in the mineral-rich state had envisaged that the Ayurveda doctor-turned-politician was working on a big plan that would become a model in the country five years later.

In February 2008, the state government launched the Chief Minister’s Scheme dedicated to Narayan Singh, a member of the zamindar family of who had revolted against the British when famine hit the region 1856. When the flames of the 1857 revolt reached Chhattisgarh, the masses elected the imprisoned as their leader and liberated him from prison. After organising the local people, took on the British army near Moved by the atrocities of the British and the resultant devastation and destruction, surrendered to the British to protect the lives of his people. He was executed in public on December 10, 1857.

Food Item Quantity
Food grains
Priority households 35 kg Rs 1 per kg
General households 15 kg <50% of MSP
Only for priority households
Iodised salt 2 kg Free
Pulses (non scheduled areas) 2 kg Rs 10 per kg
Chana (scheduled areas) 2 kg Rs 5 per kg
Edible Oil 1 litre Rs 40 
Sugar is excluded

“The scheme in the state has been inspired by the martyrdom of Veer Narayan Singh,” Singh said. Under the scheme, a person living below the poverty line (BPL) was entitled to 35 kg of rice at Rs 3 per kg. In all, 3.5 million people were enrolled in the scheme. The scheme was a hit and helped Bharatiya Janata Party retain power in the December 2008 assembly elections. Singh now began to think of ways to make the scheme more effective. In 2009, the state government announced that rice would be made available at Rs 1 per kg to the antyodaya (poorest of the poor) families, while the price for the family was lowered from Rs 3 to Rs 2 per kg.

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Continuing with its efforts to ensure to the people, the government introduced the Act (CFSA) 2012 — taking wind out of the sails of the Centre that has been planning a similar Act. “We wanted to give the message that we are way ahead of others,” said What the others imagine, his government implements, he added. The CFSA was passed on December 21 by the state legislative assembly to ensure “access to adequate quantity of food and other requirements of good nutrition to the people of the state, at affordable prices, at all times to live a life of dignity”. The Act is considered to be an improved version of the National Bill that has been languishing in Parliament for more than a year.

Under the Act, about 90 per cent of the population of will have public distribution system entitlements, mostly under the priority and antyodaya categories, entitled to 35 kg of rice per month at a token price, besides 2 kg of pulses (chana) at Rs 5 per kg and free iodised salt. The Act also guarantees free nutritious meals or take-home rations in anganwadis, schools and other institutions for children below the age of six, school children, pregnant and lactating women, destitute persons and other vulnerable groups. “The scheme will be implemented through the public distribution system, anganwadis and civic, panchayat authorities,” Food Secretary Vikassheel says. The Dal-Bhat centres (that provide rice, dal and a vegetable curry for Rs 5) in cities and block headquarters would be put into service, he says, adding that 127 centres are already functional and the number will be increased to 200.

The government wants to keep a buffer stock of about one quintal with panchayats at all times so that grains can be made available free of cost immediately. Pregnant and lactating mothers can take home ration through anganwadis during pregnancy and up to six months after the child’s birth. School children will also get food from schools through the mid-day meal scheme. Residents in hostels and ashrams, too, will get subsidised grain, while destitutes and homeless persons will get free meals through Dal-Bhat centres or take home rations through panchayats. Households suffering from hunger or conditions akin to hunger will get free meals for a period of up to six months through Dal-Bhat centres or take it home through ration shops.

Under the Act, these are household, not individual, entitlements and the eldest adult woman of the family is considered the head of the household for the purpose of the ration card. If a household doesn’t have an adult woman, then the eldest man may be considered as the head of the household. The services under the Act are notified under the Lok Sewa Guarantee Act 2011 and are subject to timely delivery and fines for erring officials. Grain will be delivered to ration shops, following “door-step delivery”, while end-to-end computerisation of records will be done.

Under the Act, private dealers are prohibited to run ration shops which have been a major source of leakage. Prefer-ence will be given to public institutions and public bodies such as panchayats, self-help groups and cooperatives. Provision for transparency and accountability, such as formation of vigilance committees, social audits, and putting all documents in the public domain, are included in the Act. There will be no limit or “cap” on the number of persons to be included in the various categories of inclusion under the priority and antyodaya categories.

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The state government has to notify, within six months, schemes that will give effect to all the new entitlements defined in the Act, which is integrated with the Essential Commodities Act, the PDS (Control) Order, and also anticipates the possible enactment of a national act.

The number of beneficiaries included in the Chief Minister Scheme earlier was 3.65 million. The officials feel that it will increase to 4.21 million in the CFSA provision to get rice at a subsidised price. The government would require around 2.1 million tonnes of rice to effectively enforce the provisions in the Act. “The rice stock for the state available with the Centre is 1.16 million tonnes, while the state will procure 914,000 tonnes of rice,” Vikassheel says. The state exchequer is likely to bear an additional burden of about Rs 1,900 crore in implementing the provisions of the act.

The biggest advantage with the government is that it has the infrastructure in place to secure food for all in the state. “The public distribution system in the state is a model that ensures no leakage and convenient purchasing of ration from any outlet using the smart card,” Rasik Parmar, the spokesperson of BJP, says. Even if the Centre or any other state introduces the act, it will be a daunting task to effectively implement it. “They don’t have the proper system of distribution like and hence, implementing such schemes will not be an easy task for other states,” he adds.

Computerisation has helped put the public distribution system in on the right track. With smart cards, the beneficiary can purchase ration from any outlet that has resulted in ending the monopoly of any particular shop. The shopkeepers are bound to maintain the stock by avoiding leakages to attract the customers.

The government has taken a big step towards food security, but it has to be cautious in terms of quantity and quality of the food grains allotted to the beneficiaries.

For Kalia, who works in the new cloth market of Raipur, the earlier scheme has not been effective for to his family. “I have 10 members in the family and the 35 kg rice that we are getting is not sufficient,” he says. To ensure food for the family, he has to purchase at least 10 kg rice from market.

Punnu Baba, a rickshaw-puller in the Pandri cloth market, has another story to narrate. “After a day’s hard work, I come home to have something good to eat, but I can barely finish half a plate of rice,” he says. The quality of rice supplied from the ration shops is not good enough.

First Published: Sun, January 06 2013. 00:11 IST