A fail-safe approach for achieving “Hunger-Free World”
The very first goal, among the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), adopted by the Heads of Governments at the U.N.O. is the “eradication of extreme hunger and poverty” from the lives of people. However, the goal of eradication of extreme hunger and poverty from the world can be achieved, only when we deal with this issue in a comprehensive manner. To explain this point, I have presented below for India (in condensed form) that as to how we can eradicate extreme hunger and poverty from the lives of people.
1. Can the existing “Targeted Public Distribution System” (or the recent proposals of National Advisory Council of India, for the impending “Food Security Act”), remove hunger from India?
2. Does the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) provide dependable opportunities for unhindered growth of all the rural people of India?
3. Is the allocation of Unique Identity (UID) Number enough for banishing extreme hunger and poverty from India?
Perhaps, an emphatic “NO” is the only answer to the above questions.
Major constraints which hold us back from achieving the goal of “Hunger-Free India”
Artificial classification of people into below poverty line (BPL) and above poverty line (APL) groups.
Lacunae in functioning of the existing Targeted Public Distribution System.
So, how can we overcome these constraints?
1. Don’t classify people into BPL and APL categories (or priority households, general households, and others) because flawless classification of people in these categories is not possible; instead extend the food-security net for all.
2. Meet out the most basic requirements (including Food) of all the people through Universal Public Distribution System (UPDS), with the help of private retail-chains.
3. For accomplishing the above flawlessly, bio-metric enabled National Identity (NID) Smart-Cards should be issued to all the citizens of the country; though the Unique Identity (UID) Number being issued, presently, can also do the job.
Likely Concerns & Their Solutions
Q. 1.: Why should APL people, comprising the rich and the super-rich, be given any subsidy?
Ans.: Inclusion of APL segment is necessary to ensure that no one is left out from the safety of food-security net. Moreover, after involvement of APL group, the execution of food-security scheme will also receive a definite boost.
Q. 2.: Where are enough food-grains (cereals) for Universal Public Distribution System?
Ans.: Only, about 85 million tons of cereals will be required for ensuring reasonable food-security for all the people, whereas about 190 million tons is the net availability of cereals in our country for consumption of people.
Q. 3.: Where is the infrastructure to undertake distribution of additional food-grains?
Ans.: We should rope in private retail-chains for augmenting “Public Distribution System” of the country, in the same manner as private players have been roped in the telecommunication sector, with apparent advantages for the consumers.
Q. 4.: What should be the quantum of entitlement through the UPDS?
Ans.: Say, a monthly quota of 6 kg food-grains, 500 ml kerosene oil (or 500 gm sugar), 500 gm pulses, 250 ml edible oil, and 250 gm iodized salt, can be given to all. It will cost only about Rs.1690/- per person per annum or Rs.2028 billion per year for 1.2 billion people, as per the cost worked out for the year 2010-11.
Q. 5.: Where are the resources for giving free food-grains to all?
Ans.: Additional expenses on expanded UPDS should be met by raising duties on those items which are largely consumed by the APL group. Thus, we can achieve a perfect hunger-free India, without straining the exchequer of the country.
Q. 6.: What are expected sources of revenue?
Ans.: If rationalization of subsidies were to be carried out on the heads of Chemical-Fertilizers, Petroleum-Products, Public Distribution System, Mid-day Meal, and Electricity-Sector, alone, a sum of Rs.2300 billion could have been saved for the year 2010-11, whereas for the year 2008-09, this saving would have been a whopping Rs.2590 billion, so there is no dearth of funds.
Q. 7.: There might be people, like, (a) the elite and (b) the farmers, who may not like to have food-grains and other commodities, through the aforesaid UPDS.
Ans.: The elite can be given an option to avail of reimbursement of their entitlement through income-tax adjustment, though the farmers can be adjusted for their entitlement by way of fertilizers or other means, also.
Apparent advantages of the aforesaid approach
1. All the people will have ample opportunities for growth; it will bring lasting prosperity for the whole country.
2. National wastage in handling of food-grains can be minimized.
3. Corruption can be minimized, which starts with the process of identification of the BPL families, continues with procurement, storage, and transportation of food-grains, and ends with diversion of significant quantity of food-grains and kerosene into the black market.
4. The Government will not need to undertake various porous schemes, like, MGNREGS and other selectively launched subsidy schemes, which are deeply embedding the culture of corruption in our country. Now, the poor will have entitlement to livelihood support as their right, without their being made a party to the all-around bungling prevalent in such corruption-prone schemes.
The feeling of uninterrupted supply of food-grains and other livelihood support to everyone will ensure immense empowerment among all. This, in turn, will also help in solving many other basic problems plaguing this country for long, like,
Feeling of helplessness among the poor.
Unequal opportunities of growth among the youth.
Feeling of deprivation among the poor.
Sense of insecurity among vulnerable women.
Deplorable practice of “Child-labour”.
Alarming rate of “Child-dropout” from schools.
Appalling practice of “Bonded-labour”.
Shocking state of corruption, etc.
A Word of Caution!
If we fail to deliver equitable growth opportunities for the entire society quickly, and keep waiting for the natural growth to trickle-down towards the bottom of the pyramid of people, we will have to pay a heavy price for this complacency. Because, now, people are getting restless, glimpses of which can be seen from the wide spread turmoil in the entire country, which is surfacing in various dreaded forms, like, naxalism, extremism, and ever escalating law & order problems.