So the Food Security Bill is through. More than two thirds of the country’s population has now been promised highly subsidized food. Congress and UPA will get a couple of extra percent points of votes, add another 2-3 percentage points because of the good monsoons and you get a good enough swing for it to come back next year. The BJP was checkmated as it was impossible for it to play its usual flawless doublespeak.
I am asked what could be bad about ensuring elimination of hunger and malnutrition. I would like to ask a counter question? What is good about theFood Security Bill?
It promises to finally eliminate hunger and malnutrition, they say. How? Because now the poor can buy wheat, rice and coarse cereal at highly subsidized rates. How will the poor be identified I ask; that will happen they say. Where will the poor buy from I ask; the Public Distribution System (PDS)they say. Where? I ask again. The PDS shop, they say. And why will the PDS shop now suddenly start working when it has not for so many decades? Because now it’s a right, and people can demand redressal from the courts, they say.
So let’s grant this – the PDS will now start to function because the government will better use better technology. They will use GIS, GPS, perhaps Aadhar card and biometrics, etc. and this will eliminate the problems that the PDS system has. How will it work? The government will buy grains from production centres, store and transport them to consumption centres, and then sell them at subsidized rates through the public distribution system. Each of these will cost. Of course the PDS system itself will need to be strengthened almost everywhere. This will also cost. The high-tech sounding technology is not costless; the Aadhar number needs biometric identification, etc. etc. All of this will cost a lot. A paper coming from the government’s own Commission for Agri Cost and Prices (CACP) puts the total figure at about 682 thousand crores over a three year period. It is highly unlikely that the government can spend this, and the system cannot work well unless it is implemented very well. Chidambaram fighting his needless forex battles cannot loosen the purse strings. And even if he did, no one in this government has the ability to implement it. And without some serious money backed by serious project management skills the subsidized food will not reach where it is intended to. There will therefore be leakages. The estimated leakage itself is about 200 thousand crore by the CACP. I think it will be more as leakage is not only amount getting diverted, but also the amount wasted. When the numbers are so high it is obvious what kind of people will like to get into politics and into the government, and which ones would stay away.But these are all nitty-gritties of implementation. The Food Security Bill is inherently flawed in many other ways.Who will have control over this whole process?