Right to food

In many villages, people had fought for decades to demand one amenity after another. As an activist put it, they would struggle one year and get 100 metres of road, street lights required another protest, and many basic amenities had to be gained through sustained collective action. The impact of such protests over time was to gain an impressive array of services. Such protests date back at most to the 1970s.

The root of TN’s commitment to services

My training in mainstream economics and my social background had convinced me that government programmes to address hunger were a waste of public resources. I adhered to the idea that they should be eliminated in favour of promoting economic growth. That changed in 2002 when I travelled to the Chambal Valley of Madhya Pradesh, which was suffering its third consecutive year of drought. Here is a short note on that transformation.

How I became interested in TN’s public services

This is a part of a series of articles on the proposal to shift from PDS to coupons or cash transfers. To see the introduction, click here. Another strong argument for coupons or cash is that the recipients will have the choice to spend it on what matters most to them.  Proponents of reform have argued that the Indian policymakers tend to be paternalistic, and often argue that if the government gives cash instead of grains, poor people may misuse it, including by drinking it away.  They have argued that it’s important to trust poor people to make choices that matter […]

Coupons and cash transfers give people a choice unlike the ...

This is a part of a series of articles on the proposal to shift from PDS to coupons or cash transfers. To see the introduction, click here . Some scholars have pointed out that the motivation to dissolve the PDS comes from the ideological belief that the government should not be engaged in providing public services, and of course the material appeal this has for the rich.  The quest for PDS reform started in the context of India’s liberalization and globalization.  Pushed by multilateral agencies, the PDS was converted into a targeted system in 1997.  The motivation of these reforms was not […]

The politics of PDS “reforms”

India’s Planning Commission fixed the poverty-line at Rs. 29 per person per day (around ½ USD at today’s rate) attracting severe criticism that the amount is unreasonably low. The Commission’s Vice Chairperson, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, mounted a spirited defence of the poverty-line in CNN-IBN recently. He argued that the poverty line is used only to measure the trends in poverty over time, and it does not indicate the level of poverty, and so the level of poverty-line does not really matter. In other words, this number is only a benchmark based on which we can find out whether the number of people […]

Poverty-line debate: Time for Montek to criticize Montek

This is a part of a series of articles on the proposal to shift from PDS to coupons or cash transfers. To see the introduction, click here . In evaluating alternatives including cash transfers, it is first important to identify both contributions and failures of the system.  Proponents of reforms today have focused exclusively on the problems, without dwelling on the things that it has done.  There is a reason why the PDS is so popular in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra and increasingly in other states including Chhattisgarh.  In all these cases the PDS has worked and means a lot to the […]

The PDS does not work, let’s shift to coupons or ...

This is a part of a series of articles on the proposal to shift from PDS to coupons or cash transfers. To see the introduction, click here . Many have argued that half the PDS entitlements reach the “non poor”.  I believe that resources are scarce, and the government should spend the money on people who need it most.  We should thus be concerned if resources are being spent on those who do not need it.  In considering whether resources reach the right people, we should remember that we have a rather poor system of identifying the poor.  The poverty-line based on […]

PDS does not reach the right people, let’s shift to ...

This is a part of a series of articles on the proposal to shift from PDS to coupons or cash transfers. To see the introduction, click here . Please read other articles in this topic before getting here… The cost of administering the PDS is high Some economists have pointed out that the cost of administering the PDS is very high, and it is now possible to transfer cash to people at a cheaper rate.  This is one of the strongest arguments for a shift from PDS to cash transfers, in my opinion.  The amount of money that could be transferred just […]

Shifting from PDS to coupons or cash transfers: Assorted arguments

This is a part of a series of articles on the proposal to shift from PDS to coupons or cash transfers. To see the introduction, click here . The level of corruption in the public distribution system has been one of the rallying points in the cry for change.  The following are some of the corruption related arguments for change: There is large scale corruption in the system It is undeniable that there is a lot of corruption in the PDS, and something needs to be done about it.  In arguing that we should shift from PDS to coupons or cash transfers, […]

Corruption in the PDS & will coupons or cash transfer ...

The Public Distribution System (PDS) in India has come under a vigorous attack in the recent months.  There have been calls to dismantle the system and to replace with alternatives such as providing coupons or cash transfers.  Without any doubt the PDS has serious problems, and performs abysmally in some parts of India.  Unfortunately, these are also among the poorest regions where the need for protection from hunger is the greatest.   Considering that the PDS is supposed to contribute to something as fundamental as food security, such poor functioning must be addressed. In the recent past there have been discussions […]

Shifting from PDS to coupons or cash transfers: FAQs

NREGA presents an unprecedented opportunity for disabled persons across India to earn a living and to showcase their talents. But as things stand, NREGA is not designed for disabled people to participate in it, but we can change it all with some tweaking.

NREGA for the disabled

“To be ruled is to be kept an eye on, inspected, spied on, regulated, indoctrinated, sermonized, listed and checked off, estimated, appraised, censured, ordered about…to be ruled is at every operation, transaction, movement, to be noted, registered, counted, priced, admonished, prevented, reformed, redressed, corrected”. Proudhon quoted by James Scott in Seeing like a state. The power of information is often used by those in powerful positions to control others.  The right to information movement inverts this principle and turns the gaze on those in positions of power by making their actions visible and thus amenable to democratic control.  Sharing information […]

Politics, technology & accountability II

Comparisons are often drawn between the New Deal in USA and the Employment Guarantee Act in India (NREGA). One programme of new deal comes close to NREGA – Civilian Conservation Corps The Government of India passed the all-important National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) in 2005 (for an intro click here). Whenever I mention it to my friends in USA the first question they ask me is, “is this like the new-deal”. The new deal has many similarities with NREGA, but is a much wider concept. NREGA is a programme dealing exclusively with labour-intensive, unskilled work. Employment programmes under new […]

America’s New Deal & India’s Employment Guarantee Act

Good introductory video on using right to information to combat corruption by Arvind Kejriwal Arvind Kejriwal has been at the heart of an inspiring campaign to combat corruption by using the right to information. He spearheaded a campaign in Delhi along with many other groups that popularised the use of right to information. Arvind got the Magasassay for his work. The videos below contain a talk he gave on using RTI, which I think is a good introductory material for people with an interest on how it could be used, and what it means.

Fighting corruption using right to information: Arvind Kejriwal’s talk

It looks like Government of Bihar has launched a Right to information call centre. Personally, I think this is a great idea, though I dont know how it works at this point. If found a video about it in You Tube that has been widely televised. This is a eight minute clip about that appeals to different groups of people to use it, and gives an idea about how it could be done.

Right to information call centre in Bihar: Video clip

Food politics: how the food industry influences nutrition and health Rating: 5 out of 5 Author: Marion Nestle Year: 2002 Category: Nutrition, Political Economy, Agriculture Publisher: University of California Press Fascinating book on the politics of food in USA The book was motivated by the contradictions between nutrition policy and practice. The author argues that the basic nutrition advice has remained more or less constant for the last fifty years. She examines the role of food industry in the US in creating an environment conductive to over eating and poor nutritional practice. Overproduction, Competition & pressure to make people eat […]

Food Politics by Marion Nestle: How industries influence eating

Death without weeping: The violence of everyday life in Brazil Rating: 4 out of 5 Author: Nancy Schepper-Huges Year: 1992 Category: Anthropology, hunger, violence, poverty Publisher: University of California Press Death without weeping is an ethnographic study of a town in North-Eastern Brazil. The theme of the book is hunger, child deaths and ‘every day violence’ in Brazil. The work is situated in a town she calls ‘Bom Jesus da mata’ in Pernambuco district of N.E. Brazil. The author visited the place first as a volunteer in 1964, and continued her association with the town ever since. After her training […]

Nancy Schepper-Huges’ graphic portrayal of hunger and violance in Brazil