Notes from the Right to Food Campaign 1

2.4 Selecting the right beneficiary

There is a growing concern today that benefits should reach the deserving. In order to do this various measures of ‘targeting’ are taking place. Prominent among these is identification of the BPL population. Any identification exercise is bound to have problems. A degree of error is acceptable in them. But the BPL identification is fraught with problems at every stage. To begin with, outdated and mechanical interpretation of poverty line is being used to identify the population. In the largest slum in Mumbai no poor person was found! The Delhi administration is also finding it hard to find enough poor people in the city. The surveys are conducted by already overburdened officials. As estimate puts that an officer in Delhi had to survey over 300 houses in a day along with some routine activity. All this had to be done in the morning since he had to report for election duty in the noon! The forms too were made with little thought. To give a simple illustration, a question on the number of dependents in the family had the following multiple choice answers – a) 0-2 b 2-4 c) 4-6 d) 6 or above. Some one having two dependents in the house could mark either (a) or (b). What the person chooses can make all the difference between a person qualifying for the Antyodaya scheme or not. Parivartan, an NGO working in Delhi, did mock surveys using the same survey form and method. They found out that there were many people qualifying for Antyodaya but not for BPL i.e. people rejected by the same form as not being poor were being identified as ‘poorest of poor’!

Designing objective forms that will identify all deserving people is a difficult task. The first hurdle to targeting is problem of information. For large programmes there is also administrative difficulty of reaching out to so many people and finding out who is eligible and who is not. The case of overburdened surveyors does not just pertain to Delhi. In most places the surveys are done by people who are already overburdened and the selection consequently takes place without any actual survey. Since BPL cards entitles us to various benefits, there is a scramble to obtain it. The opportunity is used by local politicians to distribute favours to party-men and others. This further distorts the process. Information and administrative problems are further compounded by problems in the inherent design of the survey process.

Though the idea of targeting of beneficiaries is good, the exercise of identifying the deserving is not practical. Targeting exercises have produced very disappointing results. This necessitates a change from targeting to other methods of selecting deserving beneficiaries. Two alternatives have been favoured in the campaign so far – universal access with self-selection and universal entitlement for identified vulnerable groups.

About Vivek Srinivasan

I work with the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University. Before this, I worked with the Right to Food Campaign and other rights based campaigns in India. To learn more, click here.

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One thought on “Notes from the Right to Food Campaign

  • Tanuj

    I started reading about right to food after the bill was passed, and got to know about the campaign that ran behind it for more than 10 years. I grew more interested in the campaign and activism that supported it, after I read a few snippets about it in a few articles, specially about the action day for mdm in 2002. I was searching about it, and landed up in this site. These notes give a great structure to the ideas behind the campaign.
    If there are any notes or articles or books that have a memoirs of being part of this campaign, or talk of the different activities that were carried out through out the campaign, then I would be really obliged if you can direct me to such resource.