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Odisha’s food court

Editorial |

It would be less than fair to debunk Naveen Patnaik’s food security scheme for Odisha as a contrived initiative prior to the Assembly elections in 2019.

It is quite obviously an essay towards fulfilling the Benthamite doctrine of the “greatest good of the greatest number”, one that is geared to benefit the state’s 34.44 lakh poor who have been excluded from getting the benefits under the National Food Security Act ( NFSA) ~ the brainchild of the Congress-led UPA and now being executed by the BJP-led NDA.

Between the two dispensations, there are hundreds of people battling malnutrition, when not starvation in the absence of ration cards or far worse, the inexplicable exclusion from the flagship Food Security Act. The scheme is still far from universal, and Odisha is not the only state that is suffering.

Central to the crisis that plagues Odisha is that a large segment of the poor have been excluded as the calibration was based on the 2011 census. It is hard not to wonder why the list of beneficiaries was not updated over the past seven years either by the Centre or the administration in Bhubaneswar.

This has made confusion worse confounded after the initial discord, chiefly the Government’s differences with the Planning Commission, over the praxis of identifying the beneficiaries and the quantity of foodgrain an individual will be entitled to consume.

If Odisha’s Food Security Act, which will come into force with effect from 2 October, is earnestly implemented, every member of the Below Poverty Line category shall be entitled to a kilogram of rice at Rupee One. Mr Patnaik’s intervention in food security is of a piece with the Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana, which takes Odisha beyond the ambit of the Centre’s Ayushman Bharat National Health Scheme, which the Chief Minister had rejected last month.

In a country where medical treatment is only for those who can afford it, the parallel health scheme is no less a critical initiative in the social sector. It will cover more beneficiaries than envisaged by the Centre. Regretfully though, the schemes appear to have sparked a bout of kerfuffle with the Centre. Such schemes should not trigger ego clashes.

The Union petroleum minister from Odisha, Dharmendra Pradhan could well have held his fire instead of making a statement that would please the BJP leadership in Delhi. “Naveen Patnaik is in the habit of ambush marketing by projecting central schemes as his own.”

No scope to score brownie points either by claiming that the Centre provides the maximum subsidy on rice ( Rs 29 per kg). “It isn’t as if Mr Patnaik is providing all the subsidy.” It is fervently to be hoped that the Centre will help the state to walk the talk. The poor need food, not argumentative politicians.