Rights

Food Security Makes Headway In Tripura But Gaps Remain

Although the National Food Security Act has increased the effective food security coverage, a household survey has revealed exclusion errors and problems of linkages of ration cards with Aadhaar.

Credit: Jorge Silva/Reuters

The PDS in Tripura is going through a transition. Credit: Jorge Silva/Reuters

Across the country, the National Food Security Act (NFSA) has raised the hope of eliminating hunger. When the Act was passed in 2013, Tripura criticised it, demanding a universal Public Distribution System (PDS). After differences with the Centre were resolved, Tripura became the first northeastern state to implement the Act, based on the Tripura Food Security Rules, 2016.

Before the Act, PDS cardholders in Tripura were divided into above poverty line (APL) and below poverty line (BPL) categories, besides the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) category for the extremely vulnerable families. However, due to targeting errors, several poor families fell under the APL category and were excluded from the food security system as they had to pay Rs 13 per kg for rice (a maximum of 20 kgs) from the PDS shops. The implementation of NFSA led to a major increase in the effective food security coverage. Under the new rules, the priority and AAY households are entitled to rice under the PDS at Rs 2 per kg. Further, the state has decided to continue providing grain under the PDS to non-priority (APL) households with the Centre’s assistance.

A household survey was conducted in September 2016 to assess the state of the PDS in Tripura. The findings are tentative for two reasons. First, the new NFSA beneficiary list is in the process of being revised and the distributions of new cards is yet to be completed. And second, the survey was confined to 480 households in two blocks of North Tripura district (all households in a sample of eight tribal hamlets considered relatively poor by local investigators were covered). Yet, much was learnt from it.

The PDS in Tripura is going through a transition, with an expansion of priority coverage (keeping the APL coverage intact), digitisation of cards and computerisation. Though new cards are yet to be distributed, the distribution of rice under the PDS was found to be based on the new NFSA list. The survey findings suggest that the system works quite well.

For instance, there was little evidence of quantity fraud – distribution below official entitlements. In August, the month preceding the survey, 99% of the sample households had received their full PDS entitlements.

Similarly, no instance of overcharging – people being charged more than the official issue prices – was found. Further, 98% of the respondents felt that the quality of PDS grain was “good” or “fair”. The PDS shops had well-maintained records and well-designed information boards with all the relevant details.

This resident of Rabaindra Nagar Village has been struggling to support herself and her physically challenged daughter ever since her husband’s death. Previously an APL cardholder, she is now on the Priority list and subsidized rice helps her to make ends meet.

This resident of Rabaindra Nagar village has been struggling to support herself and her physically challenged daughter ever since her husband’s death. Previously an APL cardholder, she is now on the priority list and subsidised rice helps her to make ends meet. Courtesy: Souparna Maji

Strong grievance redressal mechanism, doorstep delivery of grains to the PDS shops and a high awareness of entitlements have contributed to the effectiveness of the PDS in Tripura. All the respondents knew their monthly entitlements as well the official issue prices, for instance, 35 kg per household for AAY households and 5 kg per person for priority households (at Rs 2 per kg in both cases). It is expected that the entitlements and the issue prices will be printed on the new digital cards in the local language, as was with the old ration cards.

In the sample villages, 98% of the households had a ration card before NFSA was implemented. Post NFSA, the coverage was similar if the APL category is included. However, two years ago, barely one-fourth of the households had a BPL or AAY cards, enabling them to buy PDS rice at Rs 2 per kg. Today, 63% of the households have been covered. This is a major improvement as many poor households were left out of the BPL and AAY categories in the previous system.

However, Tripura’s PDS is not flawless. There is an issue of ‘missing names’ in the NFSA list – within priority households, about 11% of the family members have been left out. This is significant because PDS entitlements of priority households are proportional to the family size. Further, the list is not free of exclusion errors. Quite a few vulnerable households still remain excluded and have to pay Rs 13 per kg for PDS rice.

The survey team also observed cases where some members within the beneficiary families were unable to purchase PDS grain. This was mainly due to problems related to the linking of ration cards with Aadhaar, now required for PDS purchases in Tripura. For instance, some individuals did not have an Aadhaar number, and some others who did, still had their names missing from the seeded NFSA list.

While there is scope for further improvement, it is encouraging that most of the sample households were regularly getting their full entitlements and expressed satisfaction with the system. Food security is now a lively political issue in Tripura; the positive results resemble those achieved in other states such as Chhattisgarh, Odisha and more recently West Bengal, where food security has also become part of the electoral agenda.

Now that ration cards in Tripura have been linked with Aadhaar, it is expected that biometric authentication using point of sale machine will soon be introduced. The case for this, however, is unclear, since the system works reasonably well as it is and Aadhaar linkage has already caused significant problems. It remains to be seen how the PDS works in Tripura after biometric identification becomes compulsory.

NFSA Survey in Tripura, 2016: Selected findings

Proportion of sample households with a BPL, Priority or AAY card

Before NFSA

After NFSA

25

63

Proportion (%) of ‘missing names’ in NFSA list*

11

Average purchase of PDS rice, as a ratio of entitlements (%)

August 2016

‘Normal month’

 

99

99

Proportion of respondents who felt that the quality of PDS rice was ‘good’ or ‘fair’ (%)

98

*Priority households only (missing name = household member not listed in ration card).

Source: Survey of 480 households in two blocks (Dasda and Lajuri) of North Tripura district in September 2016. All figures are provisional.

Souparna Maji is an MA student at Jadavpur University.