ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Eating Food, Not Cash

Replacing food rations with cash could effectively undercut efforts to reduce malnutrition.

Successive union governments have tried to replace subsidised food schemes with cash transfers or direct benefit transfers (DBTs) to targeted beneficiaries. The Economic Survey (ES) 2016–17, Vol I, in its chapter on “Universal Basic Income” (UBI), has echoed this. More recently, the Niti Aayog’s Nourishing India: National Nutrition Strategy suggested ways to replace take-home rations (THR) under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) by cash transfers. The Union Ministry of Women and Child Development has reportedly paid heed to this advice, and prepared a proposal to substitute THR, given in anganwadis for infants under three and pregnant and lactating mothers, with cash transfers directly into the Jan-Dhan bank accounts of mothers. This is to be done first for some districts that show the worst outcomes for child malnutrition, to be followed by the rest a year later.

The idea of cash transfers anchors this government’s central poverty alleviation strategy, JAM (Jan-Dhan–Aadhaar–Mobile). One of the first central schemes to witness serious attempts at being replaced with cash transfers is the public distribution system (PDS) that provides subsidised foodgrain to about 67% of the population. While the central government has asked all states to consider moving towards DBTs in PDS, as of now pilot schemes have been initiated in three union territories (UTs)—Puducherry, Chandigarh and Dadra and Nagar Haveli. The justification for replacing subsidised food by cash transfers under the PDS or the ICDS is that there are leakages, poor quality of food, and corruption. However, there is enough evidence to show that administrative reforms backed by political will can result in significant improvements in these schemes.

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Updated On : 30th Sep, 2017
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