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

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
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.
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.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid