First Published on: January 29, 2016
Bundelkhand Image: ndtv.com
Two kilograms of daal per household per month must be provided to every household for the drought-affected period by the Central/State governments as daal is a principle source of high and yet daal consumption has been reducing and is worse in this drought affected year that has severely impacted on hunger. The Tamil Nadu pattern of distributing daal at Rs 30 per kilogram is a feasible one.
Besides, eggs (or milk) need to be urgently provided within the Mid-Day Meal Schemes to school going children especially in drought-affected areas. Where milk is in short supply one egg per child is mandatory. These are some among a list of critical suggestions made by the Swaraj Abhiyan in its Written Arguments filed before the Supreme Cort today, January 29. The Abhiyan had filed a detailed petition before the supreme court praying for an enforcement of the National Food security Act, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGA) especially in drought affected areas of the country. The petition and the written arguments can be read here. Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan and academic-activist Yogendra Yadav have formed and led the Swaraj Abhiyan.
Twelve states in the country including Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Bihar, Haryana, Chhattisgarh and Odisha are drought affected; however while all these declared their states as drought-affected between September and October 2015, the notable exceptions were Gujarat, Bihar and Haryana.
The Swaraj Abhiyan conducted an intense survey of Bundelkhand district in October 2015 and thereafter filed a petition asking for judicial directives for government schemes to be implemented forthwith to stem the acute distress prevalent in rural India. The petition was heard on January 4 and 22, 2016. The nest hearing of the petition is on February 1, 2016.
The petition and the written notes both make a strong plea for the Manual for Drought Management to be followed by the Government for managing water resources in the drought-affected areas including policy for use of reservoir storage, repair and augmentation of all existing water supply schemes and other emergency measures for supply of drinking water
In its petition, the Swaraj Abhiyan has relied on data collected by the Samvedana Yatra across nine states between October 2 to 15, 2016 to assess the ground situation resulting from the drought and also conducted an independent survey in 108 representative villages in the severely affected Budelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh which shows alarming figures: 39% families had not consumed dal even once in the last 30 days, 60% had not consumed any milk and 14% admitted going to bed hungry at least once during this period; 40% families had to resort to distress sale of their cattle, 24% had to mortgage or sell their land and 79% had to eat roti or rice with just salt of chutney at some point since the crop failure around Holi this year.
The Swaraj Abhiyan, in its petition, claims that this has been confirmed subsequently by various media reports, and that though it had addressed letters to Chief Ministers of various states to request urgent action on drought relief, they have failed to redress the misery of this vast population, they have even failed to properly implement the existing schemes that could have provided support during this period of distress. Swaraj Abhiyan has also stated in its writ petition that except for 2 states no other states have implemented the National Food Security Act, resulting in the failure to provide adequate food grains through the Public Distribution System at this hour of crisis.
In its petition, the response of the Centre and states have been described as ineffective and sluggish: “The total number of person days employment generated under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Generation Scheme has actually gone down during this drought period, when it was needed most. States have not followed the relief work required under their own drought manual. Not a single state has as yet paid any relief or compensation for Kharif crop loss; most of the respective governments have failed to fully pay for the crop losses during previous Rabi crops; insurance schemes have benefitted only a tiny fraction. State governments do not have adequate funds to handle this disaster and the Government of India does not follow any transparent method to provide funds for this purpose.”
While the fact of drought is admitted by the Union of India and various states and that eight states have already officially declared a state of drought, the states of Bihar, Gujarat and Haryana have not yet declared a drought despite recording rainfall deficit of 28%, 14% and 38% respectively, states the petition. Slamming the states for their weak, ineffective and tardy response towards alleviating the conditions of drought affected citizens, the petitioner has made the startling claim that no government has provided any compensation or relief to the farmers for crop loss during this drought. The Swaraj Abhiyan has charged the states of being highly negligent in performing their obligations and accused them of causing enormous damage to the lives of the people due to their inaction.
The petitioner has claimed that though the states are bound to give open handed employment of 150 days at the legal minimum wage for all willing to avail in the drought affected areas in accordance with the standard laid down by the respondents themselves under the MGNREG Act, 2005, they have failed to provide the same. Further, Swaraj Abhiyan, in its PIL has stated that the States have failed to implement the National Food Security Act, 2013 whose very purpose is to provide food security means and make available sufficient food-grains to meet the domestic at affordable prices.
The Abhiyan has asserted that the negligence on the part of the Central Government and the State governments amounts to a contravention of the rights of citizens guaranteed under Articles 21 and 14 of the Constitution of India, and it has also charged the states with having abdicated their constitutional obligation under Article 21 of the Constitution of India which makes it mandatory for the Respondents to ensure the right to life of the citizens which includes the right to live with dignity with at least two square meals a day.
The petition seeks the intervention of the Supreme Court in such dire circumstances to alleviate the conditions of the drought affected people, the Swaraj Abhiyan has inter alia, sought for directions to the Centre and the 11 states arrayed as the respondents in the writ petition to : (i) declare a drought in their respective states and provide immediate essential relief and compensation to their people to tackle the present natural calamity; (ii) provide adequate and timely compensation for crop loss and input subsidy for the next crop to the farmers affected by drought; (iii) immediately make available and make timely payment for employment of 150 days under the MGNREG Act to the drought affected people, and (iv) immediately make available food-grains as specified under National Food Security Act, 2013 to all the rural people in drought affected areas irrespective of any classification such as APL/BPL; (v) restructure crop loans for damaged crops and other debts of farmers in the drought affected areas; (vi) to formulate uniform standard rules for the purpose of declaration of drought; and (vii) fix fair, objective and transparent package for crop loss compensation.
On the first date of hearing of the matter on January 4, 2016, the Supreme Court asked the Centre to collate data on the various social security schemes being implemented in the 12 drought-affected states. The court asked states to assist the Centre in doing so. The court asked the Centre to collate data on deficit rainfall, implementation of National Food Security Act, midday meal scheme and the Rural Employment Guarantee Act. The petition has sought timely disbursement of crop loans, drought compensation, help in procurement of subsidized cattle fodder and formulating an integrated water policy.
Meanwhile, the ongoing Right to Food Campaign has collated its findings on the efficacy of the National Food Security Act (NFSA).
Critical data mapping by the Right to Food Campaign (this updated map and this detailed table which depicts the inclusion and exclusion criterion, eligibility lists of beneficiaries and toll free helplines) reflects the rollout of the National Food Security Act (NFSA)NFSA across India based on statements by the central and state governments. This is a crucial mapping in a year when almost half of the country’s districts reel under severe drought conditions. The situation on the fround however tells a different tale. Especially in states that have only recently enacted and launched the Act, the situation on the ground is far different.
Starvation Deaths: There has been a spate of starvation deaths in the news over past months, especially with the 65 deaths in the tea gardens of West Bengal in the last six months of 2015, in the drought-affected districts of Odisha and even Chhattisgarh. In Uttar Pradesh the drought has been described as a situation of man-made starvation (Hindi). In West Bengal, the Duncan group has agreed to open langars in their gardens but the situation remains grim in other estates.
The findings from the ground on the implementation of the NFSA by the Right to Food Campaign reveal the following:
Uttar Pradesh: Uttar Pradesh, where 50 of the 75 districts have been affected by deficit rainfall, was committed to launching the NFSA on December 1, 2015 in three phases till April 2016. But in Bundelkhand the situation is dire. Families are forced to eat rotis made of grass, farmers are mired in debt and out-migration rampant in a situation of official denial of hunger and man-made starvation [Hindi]. A survey conducted by Swaraj Abhiyan in October also found that in 30 days, 39% families had not consumed dal even once, 60% had not consumed any milk and 14% admitted going to bed hungry at least once.
Odisha:The NFSA was officially rolled-out on October 2, 2015 and subsidised grain was distributed from early November in 14 districts. But there has been some confusion on the ground at a time when 26 of 30 districts have been affected by drought. The Dongria Kondhs have been denied Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) cards, that they are automatically eligible for as Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs). In November=December 2015, the Odisha Khadya Adhikar Abhiyan also organised a Lok Adhikar Yatra which converged in Sambalpur.
Jharkhand: The NFSA was formally launched on September 25, 2015, but the distribution of new ration cards has been fraught. The state campaign organised a two-day training program to monitor the implementation of the Act. A one-page survey proforma, guidelines and a software program have also been designed to match the list of eligible beneficiaries from the state government website with the Census 2011 Primary Census Abstract population database, which can be adopted by other state campaigns too.
Jammu and Kashmir: There has been sustained opposition to the NFSA by some opposition parties and citizens who have taken to the streets to demand that their original guarantee of 35 kilos per person be retained instead of 5 kilos per person.
But on the positive front, there have been a few important developments:
West Bengal: In a welcome development the state government has announced that with an additional expenditure from its own coffers, it will expand the coverage to 80-85% of the population eligible for foodgrains under the Act. This will expand coverage from the current 3.33 crore people in the state to almost 9 crore. In September-October 2015, the state campaign had organised an NFSA awareness campaign with motorbike rallies on 5 routes.
Antyodaya Anna Yojana Restored: Some months ago, the Food Ministry had proposed the winding-up the AAY category to provide 35 kilograms of subsidised foodgrain to ‘poorest of the poor’ families over time. But after much opposition by the campaign, citizens and people’s organisations, that provision has been dropped. The original and modified orders are here.
Dal in PDS: With the increase in prices of pulses and uproar in Parliament, the central government has instructed the states to provide pulses through the public distribution system. The Agriculture Ministry has also apparently offered to make pulses available for the PDS. But only a few states (see table) already provide pulses and oil through ration shops. Many more need to follow suit.
ICDS: After substantial across-the-board budget cuts for social sector programs and sustained protests by civil society, allocations for the current year for the ICDS has been marginally increased to Rs.15,485.77 crores. But in the midst of drought, there are reports from Uttar Pradesh that 1.5 lakh children have been denied cooked meals at anganwadis for three months due to delays from the centre.