Decentralising food distribution in india

India, with its abundant and cheap labour, has potential for rapid growth and development. This resource can be particularly well applied in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. However, here Kartikeya Rana disucsses the role of a corrupt government and high levels of red tape in decreasing the efficiency of work conducted and results in avoidable costs.

One important measure of the country’s development is whether the people are able to gain a staple diet. India is currently facing a serious problem of undernourishment and malnutrition. It has the highest number of poor people, in terms of percentage of population, in the world.

© Balazs Gardi/Creative Commons License

© Balazs Gardi/Creative Commons License

Apart from being a source of damage for the populous, it has also cost the taxpayer a tremendous amount of money. Schemes such as subsidised grain have led to a loss of around 2 billion rupees worth of crops in 2012 alone. This has not helped to improve public perception of the government, which sees the government as a corrupt and criminally intended organisation.

The issue in India is not only one of policy paralysis but also of implementation. Although the government has implemented legislature to overcome the problem of hunger in the country, high levels of graft and lower level management has resulted in poor implementation.

Policy paralysis

The issue of policy paralysis in India can be explained by the dysfunction of the parliament. Poor attendance and regular disruption in parliament leads to a lack of effective policy development and implementation. As a result, archaic policies implemented over 30 years ago are still used in India today for a number of sectors. This is particularly problematic because of the rapidly changing nature of the world and the growth of the Indian population. This results in high levels of red tape and complicated regulations. As a result, policies such as food subsidies become particularly hard to implement.

Implementation problems

There are a number of policy’s in place to ensure children are able to gain a nutritious diet. The scheme of mid-day meals was implemented wherein kids attending government schools were able to gain a lunchtime meal. Furthermore, a scheme of highly subsidised grains to the poor was implemented to ensure that every person was able to gain a basic level of nutrition necessary for survival. Both important policies for advocates of redistribution to those in need.

However, both these schemes have undergone failure due to issues of poor implementation. The mid-day meal scheme has failed as poor cooking techniques have led to the poisoning of a number of kids and their subsequent death. This led to a severe public outcry and consequential derailment of the scheme. The government has promised to re-engage in the scheme once stronger guidelines are put in place.

© Ajay Tallam/Creative Commons License

© Ajay Tallam/Creative Commons License

The distribution from the suppliers for the subsidised grain to the rest of the population was necessary to be undertaken via government food storage facilities. Much of the food was left in place for a very long period of time. This is due to poor implementation standards within the country. These poor standards can be because of the large regulations that have to be overcome for procurement and distribution.  This has led to the rotting of the food crops and further increased the level of malnutrition. Furthermore, a number of ill-intentioned suppliers have used the food grains as fodder for their cattle.

Although there has been severe media scrutiny and public outcry about this problem, the government is yet to take concrete steps to curtail this problem.


What steps could they take?

India tends to follow a system of self-designated village governments or ‘Khap Panchayats’. this system involves unique policies and guidelines, which the community follow. Since their views are highly respected, they are more likely to be implemented. If these local governments were given the resources to ensure effective distribution of the grains, they are more likely to be implemented. Furthermore, a fear of social isolation will also reduce the number of cases of implementation failure.

However, a control of such a large number of food produce will also provide the self-elected bodies with a tremendous amount of power. A Panchayat with views which are less aligned with those of the government may take the resources and utilise them for less favourable intentioned. It is known that these panchayats have previously implemented very conservative diktats, which have hampered women, minority and general citizen rights. Therefore, the government must have a local authority in place to ensure that an even distribution of the resources between the people regardless of class, religion or other racial aspects, takes place.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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