Food Security Law Benefits Elude Villagers in Worst Drought Affected District

For the last three months or so, villages in the Bundelkhand region have not received the highly subsidised grain offered under the new scheme.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Mahoba, Bundelkhand: The food security legislation making available wheat at two rupees per kilo is likely to be the most beneficial for badly drought affected areas, but a visit on May 6 to three villages of one of the worst drought affected districts — Mahoba in the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh — revealed that even in the midst of large-scale hunger and malnutrition, the benefits of this highly subsidised scheme are not reaching a majority of the most needy people.

Karahra Dang village is a part of the larger Thathevra panchayat in Jaitpur block. For the past three months or so, these villages have not received the highly subsidised grain of the new food security law. In fact they are not even receiving the lesser subsidised grain under the old BPL or below poverty line scheme. This means that they have to buy all their wheat at the market price of over 16 rupees per kg.

These villagers have sent several applications to the government but they have not received any justice. They had, in fact, gone to Mahoba in a big group on May 6 to take up their long-pending complaint with the concerned authorities but returned only with vague assurances. Despite their acute poverty, they have to spend money running from pillar to post but without any success. Some villagers expressed the apprehension that some corrupt persons are diverting the grain made available by the government, for sale at 2 rupees per kg, to the black market at around 16 rupees per kg, making huge profits.

Such worries are also troubling the people of Bihar village in Jaitpur block. A conversation with a group of 35 villagers revealed that none of them had received wheat promised by the government at 2 rupees per kg or rice promised at 3 rupees per kg. They were certain that with the possible exceptions of one or two people, no one in the village had received the grains.

However, the food security law seems to have been implemented in the Mahuabandh village of Jaitpur block where people said that about 50% of the households had started receiving the highly subsidised wheat. But they complained that the number of units or family members had not been recorded properly. Since the subsidised grain is provided on the basis of the number of family members, the villagers  have to do a new round of running around to ensure that the records are corrected. There may be local variations but the basic scheme mandates the government to provide 5 kgs of grain per family member per month.

I asked women in Karhara Dang and Mahuabandh villages how much would 25 kg grain received by a five-member family under the new law last if the family eats two full meals in a day and they said that this amount of subsidised grain would last for five days or at the most for seven days. On other days of the month they would still be paying 16 rupees in the open market for a kilo of wheat and this price has been increasing.

There are several limitations of the new law that are not highlighted by its supporters. Despite this, the highly subsidised grains are much cherished by the drought affected people. The fact that the government is failing in its responsibility to ensure they have regular access to it is a source of great distress.

This is the first of a series of reports on the drought in Bundelkhand’s Mahoba district. Read the second here.