New Delhi: Slamming the government’s commitment to ensuring a dignified life with food security and nutrition for the country, the Right To Food Campaign (RFC) has criticised the Narendra Modi government for reducing food security expenditure in the latest Union Budget.
The campaign referred to the government slashing Rs. 70,000 crore worth of food subsidies from the Union Budget while announcing Rs. 4,000 crore for the compilation of the National Population Register (NPR).“This budget is symbolises how little the Government of India is committed towards ensuring a dignified right to life for its people with food security and nutrition for all in the country,” RFC said in a statement.
Launched in 2017, the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) raised the number of weeks of paid maternity leave to 26 weeks at an initial budget of Rs. 2,700 crore. It targeted a tiny proportion of women in the country working formally. The budget for the programme is the same as the last financial year at Rs. 2,500 crores and the RFC says this a violation of the National Food Security Act (NFSA) that promises Rs 6,000 per child.
Two years ago, 60 experts wrote to former Finance Minister Arun Jaitley mentioning that Rs 8,000 crore was necessary to address benefits women could avail under the NFSA. An RTI response from the Jaccha-Baccha survey conducted in June 2019 showed that between April 2018 and July 2019, the PMMVY failed to reach 49% of women who would have had a first delivery, benefiting only 31%.
Food subsidy in the Budget has also been reduced to Rs. 1.15 lakh crore from the Rs 1.8 lakh crore for last year, which was itself revised to Rs 1.08 lakh crores. The campaign says that the “amount is not sufficient for even making the entitlements provided under the NFSA available to all eligible beneficiaries.” It adds that the under-allocation has resulted in huge debts for the Food Corporation of India (FCI).
Further, the Economic Survey proposes that subsidised rations be made available to only 20% of the population. “The expanded PDS covering 67% of the population was a hard-won entitlement and is enshrined in the National Food Security Act. The government cannot try to rob this entitlement by stealth,” their statement says. Their statement says that the government should look at ways of “strengthening the PDS” and including higher quality foodgrains, pulses and cooking oil, instead of “undermining” the existing system.
The allocation for mid-day meal schemes has stayed the same at Rs 11,000 but the campaign criticises it for “shoddy implementation and lack of monitoring.” It refers to “religion and caste interests” affecting the inclusion of eggs in meals for children, with the entry of players such as the Akshaya Patra Foundation. Centralised kitchens result in huge transportation costs in rural areas and the campaign also notes the Uttar Pradesh government coming down hard on a journalist reporting a violation last year.
The government has increased allocation to the umbrella Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) by 3.5% to Rs 28,557 crores.The National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) says that 35.7% of children below five years are underweight and 38.4% were stunted for their age, while 21% were wasted. The Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey (CNNS) called it a “chronic malnutrition” problem.
The statement says that conditions for Anganwadi workers, who have been at ground-zero, have not improved. The workers have been demanding recognition, wages and pensions with them being called ‘just volunteers’ and governments handing them short-term contracts.
“While the country battles with the CAA/NRC/NPR and the resulting state repression on the protesters, the government has shown its callousness by striking another blow with a budget that takes no cognizance of the problems of food insecurity and push the citizens further into the margins,” their statement says.