News / Asia

    In India, Cash Replaces Food Rations for Poor

    A grocery shop owner counts rupees notes in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad, May 23, 2012.
    A grocery shop owner counts rupees notes in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad, May 23, 2012.
    Anjana Pasricha
    India has ambitious plans to make cash payments to the poor to overcome massive fraud and theft in the country’s social welfare schemes. India operates the world's largest public food distribution system to prevent hunger, but billions of dollars of these subsidies never reach the poor.  
        
    Raj Kumar, an auto rickshaw driver living in a West Delhi slum colony, received about $20 every month last year in place of food such as wheat and sugar.  Kumar got the money as part of an experiment to replace food rations given to the poor with cash. He was happy.

    Raj Kumar says the wheat handed out by the government store is often of very poor quality, sometimes it is not even fit for animals to eat. With money in his own hands, he could buy much better quality food. And at times, Kumar says, he never gets the rations because the shop has not received them.
     
    Corruption

    The food distribution is part of a five-decade-old subsidy program in which billions of dollars worth of food is earmarked for India’s poor. It is the world’s largest public food distribution system. Depending on income, the rations are given either free or at subsidized rates. The cost: about $10 billion last year.
       
    But graft and waste afflict the program. Findings by the Supreme Court and various news investigations have revealed that a large part of the food is siphoned off by a network of corrupt officials and sold to traders at market rates.

    Narendra Saxena, a commissioner to the Supreme Court who monitors hunger-based programs, says government data indicate the scale of the problem is huge.

    “Studies by the Planning Commission show that around 58 percent of food does not reach the poor people, the intended beneficiaries," he explains. "It is very bad in states like Bihar. There is a lot of corruption at the state level. 50 per cent of the ration cards have been given to the non poor.” 

    He says the fraud scheme is simple. Rolls of beneficiaries are stuffed with fake names, or the names of those who do not qualify for the subsidy.    

    Overhaul

    To cut the massive fraud, the government wants to overhaul the distribution of food and various other subsidies by using an electronically verified identity number given to all Indians. It has undertaken pilot projects in eight states to make direct cash transfers using these numbers stored in what is called “aadhar” cards.
        
    Two hundred million Indians have received these numbers. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently said that this will boost efforts to help the poor.  
     
    Singh says that the identification number will ensure that the right person gets the money, and make it possible to eliminate middle men. He says this will reduce complaints of fraud.

    Experts agree the cash transfers will reduce graft. But they say this will not fix the problem. They point out that many poor people have no bank accounts, especially in remote rural areas, where hunger is more rampant.
     
    Saxena says the electronic cards may ensure that fake names are removed from rolls. But he says the real challenge in the food subsidy program is identification of the right beneficiaries.

    “Identification cannot be done by giving them some kind of a card," he notes. "Where out of 100 only 30 people have to be selected, that 30 selection has to be done by some government functionary. And that is where the problem lies. So therefore even if we give cash subsidy it will go to the wrong people. The poorest people have no rations cards, no aadhar cards, no identity at all.”
     
    There are also worries that money given to poor families may be misused by some members of the family and be spent on liquor, or gambling.

    Among those who say they will opt for food rations rather than money is Dev Das and his wife Seema. They live in the New Delhi colony where the cash transfer experiment was conducted.

    Dev Das says the money they received was used to repay loans and other bills. When they got rations, they actually consumed more food.

    Experts point out that some states such as Kerala and Chattisgarh have made headway in curbing theft in the food program and run more efficient programs compared to other states. They say other states should also try to follow their example and streamline the distribution of food to prevent hunger that still afflicts the country. The numbers are daunting -- nearly half of the children below five in India are malnourished.

    You May Like

    Hope Remains for Rio Olympic Games

    Facing a host of problems, Rio prepares for holding the games but experts say some risks, like Zika, may not be as grave as initially thought

    IS Use of Social Media to Recruit, Radicalize Still a Top Threat to US

    Despite military gains against IS in Iraq and Syria, their internet propaganda still commands an audience; US officials see 'the most complex challenge that the federal government and industry face'

    ‘Time Is Now’ to Save Africa’s Animals From Poachers, Activist Says

    During Zimbabwe visit, African Wildlife Foundation President Kaddu Sebunya says poaching hurts Africa as slave trade once did

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolatei
    X
    July 29, 2016 4:02 PM
    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolate

    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Tesla Opens Battery-Producing Gigafactory

    Two years after starting to produce electric cars, U.S. car maker Tesla Motors has opened the first part of its huge battery manufacturing plant, which will eventually cover more than a square kilometer. Situated close to Reno, Nevada, the so-called Gigafactory will eventually produce more lithium-ion batteries than were made worldwide in 2013. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Polio-affected Afghan Student Fulfilling Her Dreams in America

    Afghanistan is one of only two countries in the world where children still get infected by polio. The other is Pakistan. Mahbooba Akhtarzada who is from Afghanistan, was disabled by polio, but has managed to overcome the obstacles caused by this crippling disease. VOA's Zheela Nasari caught up with Akhtarzada and brings us this report narrated by Bronwyn Benito.
    Video

    Video Hillary Clinton Promises to Build a 'Better Tomorrow'

    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton urged voters Thursday not to give in to the politics of fear. She vowed to unite the country and move it forward if elected in November. Clinton formally accepted the Democratic Party's nomination at its national convention in Philadelphia. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more.
    Video

    Video Trump Tones Down Praise for Russia

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is toning down his compliments for Russia and Vladimir Putin as such rhetoric got him in trouble recently. After calling on Russia to find 30.000 missing emails from rival Hillary Clinton, Trump told reporters he doesn't know Putin and never called him a great leader, just one who's better than President Barack Obama. Putin has welcomed Trump's overtures, but, as Zlatica Hoke reports, ordinary Russians say they are not putting much faith in Trump.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora