Even 13 years after the National Food Security Act, 2013, vast parts of the population of the state are still deprived of food security; say NGOs and activists working in this field.
Though the government has launched many schemes to provide food at affordable rates – or even free – to the poor, their benefits are not reaching the intended beneficiaries. Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the situation. Aaganwadis are closed, migrants have returned to their villages and unemployment has grown. All these factors are hitting the Thali of the poor.
Sachin Jain from Vikas Samvad, an NGO, says crores of residents of the state even do not get enough to eat. “Though MP-level data is not available, we can safely presume that those living below the poverty line cannot have enough to eat,” he says. According to Jain, the very poor, the elderly, the women living alone, the homeless urbans and the landless rurals are food-insecure in the state. Poverty, unemployment and migration, he says, are the key reasons for food insecurity.
Data says that 31 per cent of the state’s population is BPL. This means around 2.5 crore persons. “The definition of poverty is also the definition of starvation. A poor family is defined as a family with a per capita per day expenditure of Rs 30-22. Is it possible for a person to have a proper, nutritious meal in this amount?” he asks. The government is claiming it is supplying free cereals to the poor. “However, rice and wheat can only keep you alive. They cannot and do not provide you with enough nutrition and energy,” he says.
According to him, it is incorrect to presume that the families who are getting enough to eat are ‘Food-secure’. Enough nutrition is equally important.
Jain says that the first step in the direction of solving the problem is to accept that the problem exists.“Unfortunately, we are living in the times when even talking about starvation or malnutrition can lead to you being branded an anti-national,” he says.
Shibani, State Coordinator of the Hunger Project, says that the Dalits, the Adivasis and the very poor are suffering from food insecurity. “The food grains being supplied through PDS shops are either of poor quality or are being black-marketed,” she says. According to Shivani, for reasons best known to the government, it is not lifting the entire PDS quota of the state. She said that one reason for growing food insecurity is the abandoning of the traditional farming. “Instead of coarse grains which were grown earlier, the emphasis now is on cash crops,” she says.
She also said that the MGNREGA wages in the state are much lower than in other states. “It is just Rs 190 per day. On the top of that, work is provided for 100 days a year (raised to 120 during Covid times). This amount is not at all enough for having nutritious, filling meals,” she says.
According to Ram Naresh, secretary of Rewanchal Dalit Adivasi Sansthan Samiti, in the recent exercise for determining eligibility under PDS, “the ineligible were included and the eligible were dropped” from the list.
According to a survey conducted by Vikas Samvad, an NGO, in six districts of the state - Panna, Satna, Rewa, Niwari, Umaria, and Shivpuri - the Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the food security scene in the state. Around 35 percent of the beneficiaries did not receive Take Home Ration packets and 60 per cent did not receive Ready to Eat Food packets, according to the survey.
The closure of Aaganwadis due to the pandemic has also adversely impacted the nutritional status of the vulnerable population. According to the survey, none of the beneficiaries interviewed have had their weight and height recorded and 58 percent school-going children did not receive food allowance in lieu of MDM.