National Food Security Mission, Farmer Suicides and Article by Jean Dreze and Reetika Khera on PDS in Chhattisgarh

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National Food Security Mission

  • NDC in its 53rd meeting held in 2007 adopted a resolution to launch a food security mission

  • Comprising rice, wheat and pulses to increase the production of rice by 10 mn tonnes, wheat by 8 mn tonnes and pulses by 2 mn tonnes by the end of the eleventh plan.

Hence, NSFM has three components:

  • Rice

  • Wheat

  • Pulses

Farmer Suicides

  • At least 17,368 Indian farmers killed themselves in 2009, the worst figure for farm suicides in six years, according to data of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). This is an increase of 1,172 over the 2008 count of 16,196. It brings the total farm suicides since 1997 to 2,16,500. The share of the Big 5 States, or ‘suicide belt’ — Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — in 2009 remained very high at 10,765, or around 62 per cent of the total, though falling nearly five percentage points from 2008. Maharashtra remained the worst State for farm suicides for the tenth successive year, reporting 2,872. Though that is a fall of 930, it is still 590 more than in Karnataka, second worst, which logged 2,282 farm suicides.

  • On average, around 47 farmers — or almost one every 30 minutes — killed themselves each day between 2004 and 2009.

Article by Jean Dreze and Reetika Khera on PDS in Chhattisgarh

Chhattisgarh Shows the Way (Nov 13, 2010, the Hindu Magazine)

  • We had an interesting view of this turnaround a few months ago in Lakhanpur Block (Surguja District), on the side-lines of a survey of NREGA in the area. Everyone we spoke to, across the Block, said that they were receiving their full quota of 35 kg of grain each month, that too at the correct price — one or two rupees per kilo, depending on the type of ration card. The stocks apparently reach the village on time, on the seventh day of each month, and are promptly distributed. There were no complaints of cheating. This is no mean achievement, in an area where the PDS was severely dysfunctional just a few years ago.

  • Other reports from Chhattisgarh suggest that this is not an isolated success. One survey of food-related schemes, conducted in September-November 2009 in eight Blocks spread over the state, found that 85 per cent of the cardholders were getting their full 35 kg of grain every month from the PDS (others were getting at least 25 kg). Only two per cent of the entries in the ration cards were found to be fake.

Eliminating Middlemen

  • One of the early steps towards PDS reform was the “de-privatising” of ration shops. In Chhattisgarh, private dealers were allowed to get licences for PDS shops from 2001 onwards (before that, PDS shops were run by the state co-operatives network). This measure allowed the network of ration shops to widen, but also created a new nexus of corrupt players whereby dealers paid politicians to get licences as well as protection when they indulged in corrupt practices. In 2004, the government reversed this order (despite fierce opposition from the dealers) and put Gram Panchayats, Self-Help Groups, Van Suraksha Samitis and other community institutions in charge of the ration shops. Aside from bringing ration shops closer to people’s homes, this helped to impart some accountability in the PDS. When people run their own ration shop, there is little incentive to cheat since that would be like cheating themselves. Community institutions such as Gram Panchayats are not necessarily “people’s institutions” but, nevertheless, they are easier for people to influence than corrupt middlemen or the government’s bureaucratic juggernaut.

  • Another major reform was to ensure “doorstep delivery” of the PDS grain. This means that grain is delivered by state agencies to the ration shop each month, instead of dealers having to lift their quotas from the nearest godown. How does this help? It is well known that corrupt dealers have a tendency to give reduced quantities to their customers and sell the difference in the black market (or rather the open market). What is less well understood is that the diversion often happens before supplies reach the village. Dealers get away with this by putting their hands up helplessly and telling their customers that “picche se kam aaya hai” (there was a shortfall at the godown). When the grain is delivered to the ration shop, in the village, it is much harder for the dealers to siphon it off without opposition. Truck movements from the godowns to the ration shops are carefully monitored and, if a transporter cheats, the dealers have an incentive to mobilise local support to complain, as we found had happened in one village.

  • These two measures (de-privatising ration shops and doorstep delivery) were accompanied by rigorous monitoring, often involving creative uses of technology. For instance, a system of “SMS alerts” was launched to inform interested citizens (more than 15,000 have already registered) of grain movements, and all records pertaining to supplies, sales, timelines, etc. were computerised. This involved much learning-by-doing. For instance, at one point the state government tried distributing pre-packed sacks of 35kg to prevent cheating, but the practice had to be discontinued as it was found that these sacks were being tampered with too. Therefore, in recent months, a move towards electronic weighing machines has been initiated.

  • Perhaps the most important step was improved grievance redressal, based, for instance, on active helplines. Apparently, the helplines are often used by cardholders, and if a complaint is lodged, there is a good chance of timely response. Further, action is not confined to enquiries — in many cases, FIRs have been lodged against corrupt middlemen and it is not uncommon for them to land in jail (there was at least one recent case in Lakhanpur itself). Grain has also been recovered from trucks that were caught off-loading their stocks at unintended destinations.