Food and politics are an old combination in India. A prime reason for this combination is the high level of poverty in India. Many households are not sure where their next meal would come from. This situation has been further aggravated by the adverse effects of covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown.
In this situation, the government came forward to offer free ration to some sections of society. Consequently, it did reflect in the BJP’s win in UP and other states. A free 5kg of foodgrain was given each month from April 2020.
It is a subsidized 5kg/person scheme that began under the National Food Security Act (NFSA). Also, there was a direct transfer of Rs 6,000 in 3 installments/per year to farmers. The amount was given under the PM-Kisan scheme. Also, a free gas cylinder for a month was given.
However, new changes are implemented. So, the free food program in India under PM Garib Kalyan Anna Yojna has been stopped. It gave food aid to over 800 million poor. For this, the government spent USD 47 billion on the food program within 28 months.
Soft down in the food program
The food program has drained a massive share of finances from the country. For this reason, the food and trade minister, Piyush Goyal has made changes to the program. Now, people shall get subsidized food grains under the NFSA program. At the same time, 5 kg/person a month or 35 kg/ family shall be given free. While the government shall save $20 billion in the following 12 months.
This year will witness state elections in 9 states before the general elections in 2024. So, will the changes in these food aid programs impact the vote share of the BJP in 2023?
Need for food aid for poor families in the country
The political angle cannot undermine the fact that there is a need for food aid for the poor section of society. As per data, from our total population of 1.3 billion people, 800 million of them do need this aid to fulfill their needs of a meal in a day. They need 5 kg of ration/month or a direct transfer of Rs.6000 to survive for a year. So, we cannot deny that it’s a necessity. Further covid-19 has intensified the situation.
According to a former Planning Commission member, 275-300 million people came under the extreme poverty line. It was during the pandemic era. Also, NITI Aayog’s poverty index recognizes 25% under the poor section.
India did undergo a shortage of adequate food grains in the post-independence era. At that time, the green revolution stuffed the godowns back with overflowing grains. But, poverty is not just about a shortage of food. It means the lack of financial ability to afford food. Moreover, it means a lack of other essentials like shelter, clothing, education, health, wellness, etc.
Food aid and politics have been old partners in India given the high rate of poverty. But, it does not cover the need for food by the poorest to survive. So, apart from going ahead with politics, the government needs to make arrangements for supporting the poor. Also, it needs to keep managing the finances spent on it. Alongside this, the government must focus on eradicating poverty to make sure no such pandemic or other crisis leaves people hungry or in need.