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Budget 2023: Is Government Giving Enough Attention To Food Security As Central Funds Drop By 31%?

For Financial Year 2023-24, the centre has allocated Rs. 1,97,350 crore for food subsidy, a 31.28 per cent decrease compared to the previous year’s Revised Estimates (REs) of Rs. 2,87,194.05 crore

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Budget 2023: Is Government Giving Enough Attention To Food Security As Central Funds Drop By 31%?
PM Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY), a scheme to provide free foodgrains is being implemented from January 1, 2023

New Delhi: “During the COVID-19 pandemic, we ensured that no one goes to bed hungry, with a scheme to supply free food grains to over 80 crore persons for 28 months”, said Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister of Finance, in her budget speech for the financial year 2023-24. She added, “Continuing our commitment to ensure food and nutritional security, we are implementing, from January 1, 2023, a scheme to supply free food grain to all Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) and Priority HouseHolds (PHH) for the next one year, under PM Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY). The entire expenditure of about Rs. 2 lakh crore will be borne by the Central Government.”

Also Read: Centre’s Free Ration Scheme ‘PM Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana’ Extended With A Tweak

The distribution of free ration is laudable but a microscopic view of the budget shows that the food Subsidy provided by the Government of India for the supply and distribution of foodgrains and other essential commodities has witnessed a major hit.

For Financial Year 2023-24, the centre has allocated Rs. 1,97,350 crore for food subsidy, a 31.28 per cent decrease compared to the previous year’s Revised Estimates (REs) of Rs. 2,87,194.05 crore. This decrease in allocations comes after significant increases in allocations in FY 2020-21, FY 2021-22 and FY 2022-23, due to additional foodgrains provided to families as part of the COVID-19 pandemic relief package, particularly under PMGKAY.

A budget brief by Accountability Initiative, Centre for Policy Research notes,

This decrease is partly due to the removal of additional foodgrain allocations under PMGKAY and other pandemic relief measures.

The Changing Face Of PM Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY)

On March 26, 2020, after the nationwide lockdown was announced, the Government of India initiated the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY), providing 5 kg of rice or wheat per person and 1 kg of preferred pulses per household, for free every month to 80 crore people. This was in addition to the regular quota of foodgrains given under the National Food Security Act (NFSA).

NFSA legally entitles 75 per cent of the rural and 50 per cent of the urban population to receive subsidised foodgrains under TPDS. Under the NFSA, there are two categories of people receiving subsidised grains:

  • Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) which constitutes the poorest of the poor and are entitled to 35 kg of foodgrains per family per month
  • Priority HouseHolds (PHH) identified by states, who are entitled to 5 kg per person, per month

Under NFSA, foodgrains are to be made available at a subsidised rate of Rs. 3 per kg for rice, Rs. 2 per kg for wheat, and Rs. 1 per kg for coarse grains to all AAY households and PHH.

Also Read: Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana To Provide Free Rations During Coronavirus Lockdown Extended, What Does It Mean For People On The Ground?

Since March 2020, seven phases of the PMGKAY have been announced. For the 28 months that the PMGKAY was implemented, a total outlay of approximately Rs. 3.91 lakh crore was sanctioned for 1,118 lakh tons of allocated foodgrain.

However, in December 2022, before the end of phase-VII of PMGKAY, the Central government announced that it will provide free foodgrains to about 81.35 crore beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) for one year from January 1.

What this essentially means is that NFSA beneficiaries will now receive foodgrains free of cost instead of purchasing them at a subsidised rate of Rs. 3 per kg, Rs. 2 per kg and Rs. 1 per kg for rice, wheat and coarse grains respectively. Under PMGKAY, started during the COVID-19 pandemic, additional foodgrains were provided. Starting January 2023, no additional foodgrains will be provided to NFSA beneficiaries as part of COVID-19 relief measures.

Raj Shekhar, National Coordinator for the Right to Food campaign said,

The government has created a campaign around free foodgrains but it’s nothing except for the reduction in the allotment. Until December 2022, under PHH, each individual would get a 10kg ration per month – 5kg under NFSA at a subsidised rate and 5kg under PMGKAY for free. But, now, the ration entitlement is halved. The impact of it will be enormous on the general masses in the long run.

In an opinion piece authored by Dipa Sinha, Assistant Professor at Dr. B.R. Ambedkar University Delhi, she wrote,

The existing benefits under the National Food Security Act continue and will now be given for free, but this does not compensate for the reduced quantity of grains. The PMGKAY played a critical role in preventing starvation during the pandemic and needed to be continued with the same quantity for longer.

Also Read: Centre Rolls Out New Integrated Food Security Scheme To Provide Free Foodgrains

What Budget 2023 Did To Food Subsidy

A budget brief by Accountability Initiative, Centre for Policy Research notes,

Despite the provision of free foodgrains under NFSA, the removal of pandemic-related allocations is estimated to save the government Rs. 94,332 crore, using FY 2021-22 figures.

Sachin Jain from the Right to Food Campaign believes that the central food subsidy should have been in accordance with the present population. He opines,

PMGKAY is not being seen from a humanitarian perspective. The benefits under PMGKAY should have continued that is the additional provision of 5 kg of cereals per person per month through the PMGKAY, introduced as part of the COVID-19 relief package in 2020. Discontinuation of benefits will impact people on a very large scale. NITI Aayog’s National Multidimensional Poverty Index shows that in some districts of Madhya Pradesh the poverty level is over 70 per cent. Poverty reinforces malnutrition.

Talking about some “basic elements” which should be included under NFSA, Mr Jain said,

Firstly, the NFSA should be universalised. Secondly, add pulses and edible oil to address the protein and fat requirements. Not taking into account these basic things show that we are not taking the issue of food security very sensitively as far as development policies are concerned.

Watch: Agenda 2023: Tackling Hunger, Malnutrition And Ensuring Food Security

Coverage OF NFSA

Commenting on the reduced central funding, Mr Jain said,

There are discrepancies in the law itself, particularly regarding population norm being in accordance with Census 2011 and that has not been revised. The government is reluctant to actually take the stock of its impact on people because almost 20 per cent population has already increased. More than 10 crore people are anyway out of the NFSA.

The budget brief prepared by Accountability Initiative states,

Using India’s current projected population of 137.4 crore for 2022, NFSA would need to cover 92.3 crore citizens. However, since 2016, after the inclusion of all states and UTs in NFSA, the gap in the percentage of eligible citizens and actual citizens covered has been increasing. This is because the Government of India does not update population figures and uses data from the Census 2011 to date. Thus, according to official Department of Food and Public Distribution data for 2022, 80 crore citizens were covered under NFSA as of November 2022, which accounts for 98 per cent of eligible households as per Census 2011.

But if we consider population growth and projecting population, coverage falls to 87 per cent of the eligible population, lower than the 92 per cent coverage in 2016. Therefore, 12.3 crore eligible citizens are being excluded under the current coverage.

The Budget 2023 was the “first budget of Amrit Kaal”. As per Prime Minister Narendra Modi, “The goal of ‘Amrit Kaal’ is to ascend to new heights of prosperity for India and the citizens of India.” As we work towards improving the lives of citizens and taking the country to new heights, we need to ensure that no one is left behind and deprived of food. As per the industry experts, it’s time the centre revises the population data and increases the coverage under NFSA.

Also Read: Economic Survey 2023 Highlights: Quality Health For All & Leaving No One Behind, An Important Priority For The Government

NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ populationindigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.

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