Coverage of the National Food Security Act is still done on the basis of the outdated 2011 Census
The Centre will provide free foodgrains and not just at subsidised rates to 813.5 million beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) for one year beginning January 1, 2023. The decision was taken in a cabinet meeting steered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi December 23, 2022.
In this period, the government will spend more than Rs 2 lakh crore as food subsidy under NFSA and other welfare schemes, to remove the financial burden of the poor and the poorest of the poor, said Union Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Commerce and Industry and Textiles, Piyush Goyal told journalists.
This means that five kilograms of foodgrains per person to Priority Households (PHH) beneficiaries and 35 kg per household to Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) beneficiaries (poorest of the poor) will be provided free of cost for the next one year.
Under NFSA, subsidised foodgrains were distributed at Rs 3 per kg for rice, Rs 2 per kg for wheat and Rs 1 per kg coarse grains to beneficiaries.
The Centre has discontinued Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, the additional free ration scheme (over and above the subsidised ration) started during the COVID-19 pandemic and merged it with NFSA, by providing free ration to the beneficiaries.
However, grave concerns about huge number of exclusions under the NFSA itself and deletion of ration cards still remain unaddressed, despite a case currently ongoing in the Supreme Court.
Some two million ration cards have been deleted or cancelled in 2021 alone, according to data submitted by the Centre in the Supreme Court.
Read Down To Earth’s coverage on the National Food Security Act
This number rises to 47.4 million cards if numbers since 2013 are considered. The highest number of cards deleted / cancelled are in Uttar Pradesh (17.3 million), followed by West Bengal (6.8 million) and Maharashtra (4.2 million).
To add to this, millions of vulnerable people are excluded from receiving this ration because of a simple fact that the government has not done population projections for beneficiaries under NFSA.
In 2013, when the NFSA came into effect, it entitled 75 per cent of the rural population and 50 per cent of the urban population to receive subsidised foodgrains.
This guarantees coverage of about two-thirds of population under the Act. This is how the figure of 813.5 million population was reached.
This identification was to be done on the basis of population estimates as per census. But the government still uses the population figures from the 2011 census. Thus, the current coverage is based on an outdated census, according to which the population stood around 1,210 million.
Hence, the figure of 813.5 million is based on this population figure and the government’s two-third ceiling in Targeted Public Distribution System.
However, according to the government’s own projections published by National Commission of Population, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, India’s population currently stands at 1,360 million, a 207 million increase since 2011.
The 813.5 million NFSA coverage is just 59 per cent of the total population, lower than the NFSA mandated two-thirds (67 per cent), if this projected population figure is used.
The Supreme Court, while hearing the case on miseries of migrant workers in accessing ration (the case has now expanded to the overall food security of the poor population), directed the Centre to come out with a solution so that benefits under NFSA are not restricted in accordance with the Census 2011.
The government, meanwhile filed an affidavit, in which it said the Act requires coverage to be updated in accordance with the latest Census figures.
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