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

Mali's Female Basketball Players Rebound After Islamist Occupation

Islamist extremists ruled northern Mali for most of 2012, imposing strict Sharia law, and now some 18 months later, the region is slowly getting back on its feet More

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

Many Chinese-made products go unsold, for now, with numerous Vietnamese consumers still angry over recent dispute More

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid