Food Security Bill: Good politics to deliver bad economics
A bill duly tabled in Parliament promises to give legal right to subsidised food to two-thirds of the country’s 1.2 billion population. The ambitious proposal should be seen in the context of India being home to roughly one third of the world’s poor; where over 70 per cent of children are malnourished and about 10 million or more people die of chronic hunger or hunger-related diseases every year.
The Food Security Bill, the UPA-II’s flagship scheme, envisages the distribution of wheat, rice and coarse grains at just Rs 2, Rs 3 and Re1 a kilo each to about 65 per cent of the population — 75 per cent of them in rural areas and the rest in cities and towns. Add to that, some entitlements to ‘special groups,’ like destitutes or homeless persons, who will be entitled to at least one meal a day.
Through this world’s largest experiment of providing food grain to poor, the government plans to double its food subsidies to 2 per cent of the GDP. If the government machinery is able to deliver on Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s pet project, it could mean the end to country’s widespread malnutrition and poverty relatively soon!
“It’s a most thoughtful and timely action, in the light of coming UP elections and thereafter the 2014 general elections,” said Prof B B Bhattacharya, eminent economist and former vice-chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Then what is the clamour all about? Why are some people hell-bent on opposing it? The general view is that if the government can pull it off, it can be the biggest trump card for the UPA government, at a time when nothing seems to be working in its favour at the moment –- neither politics nor economics.
But, one very important factor worth taking notice is: the scheme can severely impact on India’s economic growth prospects, should the populist measure be brought into force.
The proposed Food Security Bill came on a day (Thursday) when...
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