The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The government is never tired of flogging the Antyodaya Anna Yojana, be it through the budget speech or the Economic Survey. After all, it was started on the prime ministerís birthday in 2001. AAY provides 35 kilograms (increased from 25 kgs in April 2002) of foodgrain to the poorest below the poverty line households. The budget for 2003-04 says 5 million more BPL families will be added to AAY during 2003-04, extending coverage to 15 million families, or roughly 25 per cent of all BPL households. The price is merely Rs 2 per kg of wheat and Rs 3 per kg of rice. The AAY, or other such food redistribution programmes targetted at the poor are certainly better than surplus food rotting in the open (given lack of storage space) or being eaten by rats. However, for such redistribution to work, BPL (and AAY) households have to be identified and issued ration cards and the administrative machinery must be efficient. A recent N.C. Saxena report illustrates that these anti-poverty programmes amount to no more than flogging a dead horse. The background to the Saxena report is a public interest litigation filed by People's Union for Civil Liberties in the Supreme Court, challenging the governmentís track record in food-related poverty alleviation schemes. The court instructed all state governments to issue BPL ration cards by January 2002 and introduce midday meal schemes by April 2003.

Mr Saxena was appointed a commissioner and the commissionerís report not only indicts poverty alleviation schemes, but also shows how states are in contempt of the Supreme Courtís orders. Some states (including West Bengal) have not even bothered to provide information. In states where the mid-day meal scheme has been implemented, geographical coverage is incomplete. States like Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Bihar have not implemented it at all. BPL ration cards have not been issued in most states. In UP, ration cards are not available without bribes. In an anti-poverty scheme like Sampoorna Gramin Rozgar Yojana, employment is provided. Payment is both in cash and grain, with state governments providing 25 per cent of the cash support. Not surprisingly, bankrupt states have not bothered to implement this at all. These findings are not new. Comptroller and auditor-general reports have routinely indicted states (including West Bengal) for diverting funds from anti-poverty programmes. A series of studies commissioned by the planning commission in 2002 provide further evidence of leakage in anti-poverty programmes. Depending on the programme, not more than 6 per cent or 25 per cent reaches target beneficiaries. Indira Aawas Yojana is the only one where the track record is marginally better. Without greater accountability, transparency and decentralization, there is not much to crow about.

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