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India’s Karnataka State Has a New Approach to Feed the Hungry

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By Manjushree Naik

MANIPAL, India. 21 August 2023 (IDN) — With India facing the prospect of a grain crisis, the state government of Karnataka in southern India has come up with a novel approach to keep to election promises by giving the poor money to buy the grains. (P13) GERMAN | JAPANESE

The Karnataka Government’s most ambitious programme, Annabhagya Yojana, provides the underprivileged with 10 kilograms of rice per individual each month – who holds a BPL or Antyodaya card, which indicates the family’s poverty level.

Annabhagya Scheme was a pre-election promise made by the Congress Party, and after they won the government in the May 2023 state election,  they were obligated to carry out the promise.

The main goal of launching the Annabhagya Scheme is to provide free grains to poor people struggling to feed their families. Only people living in poverty are eligible for free rice under the Scheme.

There is no limit on the number of family members; each family member will receive 5 kgs of rice per month per head. The Congress had promised in its election manifesto to distribute 5 kg of free rice to each member of families with the Antyodaya (people in the bottom of the pyramid) cards, in addition to the 5  kg provided under the National Food Security Act since 2013.

Every month, an estimated 0.229 million metric tonnes of rice are required to supply 5 kg of free rice to the 44.2 million family members of Karnataka’s 1.9 million Antyodaya cardholders. The Food Corporation of India (FCI) has refused to sell this rice to the state.

Due to FCI’s refusal to sell rice, the state has been unable to obtain sufficient grains in time for the July 1 launch of the promised Annabhagya Yojana  free rice scheme.

Thus, the Karnataka government has temporarily given 170 rupees (USD 2.05) per person per month beginning July 1 in lieu of the promised 5 kgs of rice. Since the launch, the government has so far credited 45.6.million rupees to 784,000 beneficiaries.

The money is deposited into the bank account associated with the head of the family’s Aadhaar (bio-metric ID) number. Despite the fact that the state has 12.8 million ration cardholders, only about 9.7 million are currently eligible for the scheme.

According to a Food and Civil Supplies Department official (who did not want to be named), approximately 870,000 ration card holders who did not use the scheme in the previous three months are no longer eligible. Additionally, around 2.1 million cardholders are not eligible because they have not linked their Aadhaar to bank accounts, and a few do not have bank accounts.

According to the official, fair price shops will display the names of ration cardholders who do not have bank accounts or have not linked their bank accounts with Aadhaar. They will also assist with Aadhaar seeding or opening bank accounts in post offices.

Karnataka state—a major rice producer—has achieved food self-sufficiency for more than four decades, but this does not guarantee food security. Though having an abundance of food, hunger persists.

Karnataka state—a major rice producer—has achieved food self-sufficiency for more than four decades, but this does not guarantee food security.

According to the 2019-21 National Family Health Survey (NFHS), a significant proportion of young children in India face food insecurity, raising concerns about their development and future well-being. To achieve SDG 2 of zero hunger, experts say that India must implement strategic initiatives to eliminate food insecurity and ensure affordable access to nutritious food for all

Annabhagya has enabled Basamma Gowdar of Bagalkot in the North Karnataka region to save her family from hunger. Basamma and her husband work as daily wage labourers with two small children, and the scheme has also saved them money. Due to insufficient rainfall, the couple who own a small plot of land cannot cultivate. As a result, the couple goes to work daily, which is not guaranteed.

“Annabhagya has ensured that we have enough rice to eat two square meals a day”, Basamma told IDN. She believes that the money given to substitute rice is now helpful and that they can choose rice quality. “Previously, we took the quality of rice distributed through the public distribution system because we had no other option”, she added.

Food and Agriculture Secretary. M. T. Reju of the Karnataka Government stated that the scheme had helped the poor who would otherwise go hungry. “The goal of food security has been met,” he told IDN. He stated that since the scheme’s inception in July, the government has successfully reached out to 80 percent of the beneficiaries and expects to reach 100 percent by the end of August.

This is not the first time financial transfers for food grains have been made accessible. When it comes to financial transfers for food, this is the first of its sort in South Asia. There is a lot of effort to be made to ensure transparency through data cleaning and validation. Reju further stated that the cash transfer is made in the name of the woman, as outlined by the National Food Security Act. “The failure rate is quite low that there is widespread public and private acceptance,” he said.

Karnataka government minister Lakshmi Hebbalkar stated that the government has set up software to detect fraudulent accounts and other malpractice while recipients upload their ration card details to receive benefits.

Geetha Heeremutt of Kudalasamgama stated that she previously lived in a joint family with her in-laws. She and her husband have relocated to Udupi in search of work. She is unable to upload her information because she has a joint ration card with her in-laws and they benefit from free rice. She thus must balance her husband’s and her own earnings for their food.

Another Karnataka resident Lakshmi Naik from Bhatkal believes that the amount of rice each individual receives is beneficial. She said that her family consists of five members: her husband, son, daughter-in-law, and daughter and that they receive nearly 50 kgs of rice every month, which is sufficient for the family. “The rice is of sufficient quality so we use it for cooking and occasionally use the excess rice to make Dosa and Idli (staple breakfast delicacies in India)”, she added.

Shivannna Kotekar, who works as a mason’s assistant, said that he, his wife, two children, and his mother all received the benefits. “We utilise the money we receive for the remaining five kilograms of rice to buy rice from grocery stores. The scheme is immensely useful”, he added.

In response to Karnataka’s accusations that it is being denied rice for its new Annabhagya scheme, Union Food Secretary Sanjeev Chopra said in a statement to the media that surplus grains, whether rice or wheat, in the Central pool should be shared by all states, not just one.

“Approximately 36 million tonnes of rice are distributed through the Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Ann Yojana (revised National Food Security Act, which is free to all beneficiaries),” he noted. “If all states begin to demand additional rice for the public distribution system beyond what the Centre provides, the total amount will be 72 million tonnes. The stock of foodgrains is 56 to 57 million tonnes,” Chopra stated. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo: Beneficiaries of the Annabhagya Yojana standing in a queue outside the public distribution shop to collect the rice. Credit: Manjushree Naik.





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