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Food security for the Poorest: Can Gram

Panchayats and SHGs play a role?


Debraj Bhattacharya
Institute of Social Sciences
Kolkata
For Presentation at:
ICSSR supported National Conference
on
Interrogating Development:
Regional and Sub-Regional Trends in India in the Era of
Globalisation
29th and 30th March, 2015
St. Josephs College, North Point, Darjeeling

Central Question:
As Indias economy is growing, what is India doing to care for
the poorest of the poor? Does India have a strategy in place to
identify the poorest and ensure that no one dies of hunger or
no one is forced to beg?
It is wishful thinking that Growth can lift everybody out of
poverty.
AND INDIA NO MORE HAS THE EXCUSE OF LACK OF
FUNDS.

UPA Governments Centralised


Answer
Towards the end of the UPA government the
Food Security Act was passed which sought to
re-vamp the PDS system and provide
subsidized food grains to the poor, thereby
hoping to eliminate/reduce extreme poverty.
GOOD IDEA !!!

HOWEVER TO ENSURE THE


WELFARE OF THE POOREST THIS
MAY NOT BE GOOD ENOUGH.

What is the Problem?


Provision of subsidized food grain alone may not be
good enough. What is required is to have a system by
which the poorest will be cared for in a customised
manner and at the local level. They need careful
individualized attention in order to survive with dignity.
The one size fits all approach of CSSSs is unlikely to
solve the problem of hunger and humiliation that the
poorest undergo.
WHAT ROLE CAN THE GRAM PANCHAYATS PLAY
IN THE WELFARE OF THE POOREST?

An Example from the Recent Past in


West Bengal:
SAHAI A SCHEME DEVELOPED BY
GOVERNMENT OF WEST BENGAL in 2009
to address the problem of food security of the
poorest
THE SCHEME IS NOT OFFICIALLY DEAD BUT
ALMOST FORGOTTEN. THE SCHEME DOES EXIST
IN P&RD WEBSITE. BUT DOES NOT GET ANY
PROMINENCE IN PRACTICE.

Features of SAHAI:

Following the Rural Household Survey in 2006-07, it was


found that [to quote from P&RD website]:

3.5% of the population has reported that even one meal a day is not
certain for them. Another 16.5% face difficulty in arranging two
square meals a day for all the months in a year
Based on the data of the RH Survey those who scored 1 in
Parameter 4 [cannot manage one meal throughout the
year] and scored 1 against any other 6 parameters the
poorest of the poor was identified and Gram Panchayats
was asked to verify the computer generated list.
A list of activities that a Gram Panchayat can do was
made available in the policy guideline.

SAHAI FUNDING THE SCHEME


The initiative during the testing phase will be funded pooling resources from
available different programme funds, untied fund, SFC, TFC, own fund or any
other fund such as Untied Poverty Fund for the SRD programme (wherever
applicable), BRGF fund etc.
The Panchayats (at all the three tiers) will be required to spend 20% of its own
resources or 75% of the support required for the identified interventions out of
its own resources .
Some budgetary resources will be necessary for supporting the initiative
especially in areas with low own source resources. The Panchayat bodies
may also be encouraged to mobilize public donations for these interventions.
IN OTHER WORDS NOT MUCH FUND WAS ALLOCATED FOR SAHAI. THE
SCHEME LARGELY FLOPPED AS A RESULT. WITH SOME EXCEPTIONS.

A successful Case of Local Innovation


Mallarpur 1 GP of Birbhum district

The Model Developed by Mallarpur 1 GP


The GP utilised the scheme to make its area
beggar free. It put up posters saying that if you
see anyone begging please bring him to us and we
will pay you Rs 200.
A total of 122 poorest persons were identified for
the programme.
SHGs were mobilised to look after each person.
Cooked hot food was served by the SHGs in the
afternoon and puffed rice was provided for dinner.
The lunch was provided in the house of the SHG
leader. Every person was cared for, not just given
subsidized food.
Those who could not come were provided packed
lunch in lunch boxes.
Winter clothes were provided.
GP gave the poor and infirm a sense of dignity
apart from two meals.

Financing the Programme


The funding provided by the state government
was not adequate.
GPs sought help from 2 rice mills in the locality
for subsidized grain.
Vegetables were bought from the nurseries
developed by the SHGs.
Own Source Revenue of the Gram Panchayat
was used for part financing the programme.
Total Expenditure in 2012-13 was 9,79,660.00
out of which 44,530.00 came from the OSR of
the Gram Panchayat.

NGO PRI SHG synergy

A crucial element of the success of Mallarpur 1


GP was synergy between the Gram Panchayat,
a local NGO named Nai Subha and the SHGs of
the GP area. Under SAHAI the SHGs hardly got
any financial benefit but here at least they
worked whole heartedly to make the
programme a success.
Their work has been appreciated by both the
State Government as well as by the Union
Government.

Limitations of the Model


The strength of the GP is in a way also the
limitation of the model the GP had a charismatic
President who commands enormous respect in
the locality. This is not the case every where.
Without the presence of the SHGs it is difficult to
replicate the model.
Mallarpur 1 GP has a reasonably good OSR which
it can use to supplement the funding of the State
Government. This is not the case everywhere.
The GP benefited from close association with a
good grass roots NGO. This is again not present
every where.
Although the GP is a TMC GP, the work of the GP
is yet to be taken up by the state leaders of TMC.

Can the Experience of Mallarpur 1 model be


replicated across the state?
West Bengal has a fairly good network of SHGs and
there is a new programme called National Rural
Livelihood Mission under which there is lot of funds
to support the SHGs.
The work that the SHGs need to do is known to
them. They need not be taught how to cook food.
They need to be compensated for their time.
There is greater allocation of funds to the State
under the 14th Finance Commission which has
loosened the stranglehold of Centrally Sponsored
Schemes.
There is likely to be increased emphasis on
resource mobilization by the Gram Panchayats at
the policy level. This can be used for SAHAI.
World Bank project, ISGPP, is likely to roll out
across the state from 2016. This means additional
funding for the GPs.
Small donors can also support NGOs to help where

The scheme does not contradict with the needs of populist


democratic politics either. A beggar free rural Bengal sounds
good as an electoral campaign material.
Why would TMC government take up a scheme started by
LF? Mallarpur 1 GP was never a LF GP. The Pradhan once
belonged to Congress, now belongs to TMC. Moreover TMC
regime has continued the World Bank sponsored project
started by LF.

Can This be Done Elsewhere in India?


Kerela already has a successful programme named
Ashraya.

Other states which have good number of SHGs and


functional PRIs can do this.

The strategy does not require very high skill level.


Women who are SHG members usually know how to
cook. What is important is for the state governments to
show the willingness to address the issue. After 14 th
Finance Commission they cannot say that they do not
have the money.

Acknowledgements:

Ministry of Panchayati Raj


P&RD Department, Government of West Bengal
Functionaries of Mallarpur 1 GP
SHG members
SAHAI beneficiaries
Mallarpur Nai Subha
My colleagues Buddhadeb Ghosh and Dilip Kanti Chaudhuri

Thank You