By Nageshwar Patnaik in Bhubaneswar, July 29, 2018: The Naveen Patnaik government on Saturday announced to implement Odisha’s own food security programme by mobilizing its own resources to provide subsidised food to all poor people under the National Food Security Act, 2013 (NFSA) from October 2.

The decision apparently comes in the wake of the Centre allegedly ignoring the State government’s repeated requests to sanction an additional 34.44 lakh beneficiaries under the NFSA. The ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) had promised in its 2014 election manifesto a state-specific food security Act.

“In 2014, I had promised to implement our own food security programme. After implementation of the new NFSA, not all poor people of Odisha have been included in the Central scheme. The Centre has been providing ration on the basis of the 2011 Census, as a result of which lakhs of people are deprived of the benefits. I have written to the Centre on many occasions, but it has not considered our request,” Patnaik said.

“From October 2, all people belonging to the poorer sections will be provided ration under new food security scheme. I will not let any poor stay outside the scheme’s purview,” said Mr. Patnaik.

Three decades back, Odisha hogged the media headlines when a starving family sold their 12-year-old girl for a princely sum of Rs 40 in Kalahandi in Odisha. The news outraged the nation and prompted a visit by then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who famously said that of every 100 rupees allocated to anti-poverty programmes only 15 rupees reach the intended beneficiary.

Ever since, the rationing system has changed from Public Distribution System (PDS) to Revamped PDS to Targeted PDS. In October 2000, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime introduced the Antyodaya scheme for the poorest of the poor. Thirteen years later, in September 2013, Parliament passed the National Food Security Act—a law that makes right to food justiciable.

And yet many parts of India have experienced increasingly frequent droughts, which have pushed the poor, women, and other weaker sections into vulnerable conditions leading to media coverage of starvation deaths which the respective state governments keep denying.

In 1985-86, India spent around Rs 3,500 crore on food and fertiliser subsidies. The allocation for food subsidies alone in 2018-19 is Rs 1.69 lakh crore. But poor people in the country are not yet assured of food on day to day basis.

Odisha chief minister firmly claims that not a single needy person would be deprived of food security once the state has its own food security programme. However, the opposition Congress and BJP have slammed the BJD government over the new move alleging that it was meant to woo voters for 2019 polls.

“During last 18 years rule, he (Naveen) never felt the need for this. Why did he feel it now? He has announced the scheme only to garner more votes in the upcoming elections,” Pradesh Congress Committee (OPCC) president Niranjan Patnaik quipped.

The Congress leader also questioned how the government got the figure 34.44 lakh, when no census was conducted recently.

State BJP vice-president Samir Mohanty questioned, “If the government is so concerned about the NFSA leaving out the poor, why did it announce the scheme so late, that too just before the general elections?”

As the political battle rages over the state’s own food security programme to be launched from October 2 belatedly, the moot question is can the Naveen Patnaik government ensure its implementation without leakages to signal end to starvation deaths in the state.

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