Why in NEWS?
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently announced a three-month extension to the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana because of lack of access to food which drove millions of them to their native villages during the lockdown period.
- Alongside, he highlighted the implementation of the ‘One Nation, One Ration’ (ONOR) scheme to improve access to subsidized grains for migrant workers.
- Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) Prime Minister's Food Security Scheme for the Poor) is a food security welfare scheme announced by the Government of India in March 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic in India.
- The scheme is operated by the Department of Food and Public Distribution under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution.
- The government would provide 5 kg of grains and 1 kg of chickpea per month to about 800 million beneficiaries across the country.
- The National Food Security Act (NFSA) included four important programmes:
- The Public Distribution System (PDS),
- the Mid-Day Meal (MDM) scheme,
- Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS or anganwadis) and finally,
- maternity benefits.
- Community kitchens, along with social security pensions, were part of an earlier proposal, but were eventually dropped due to fiscal concerns.
- All these measures are welcome, but the concern is that they may fall short of reaching all sections of this vulnerable population.
- One thing which is most important is that of basic income because if a person does not have accessories for cooking then providing grains is mockery of policy.
- Generally most migrant workers do not live with families or permanent homes; many do not cook their meals. Instead, a significant number of these daily wagers and poor rely on roadside vendors and dhabas.
- Without access to cooking arrangement like fuel, cylinder, stove etc, only subsidized grains are not a sufficient solution to ensure nourishment.
- Neither would it be sufficient to attract them back to the urban areas as access to affordable food remains a major concern.
- Instead, concerns are there for safe, nutritious and affordable food for all urban poor, while saving fiscal resources, creating jobs, and furthering sustainability goals.
- The solution lies in tweaking an existing approach — community canteens. More than 10 States have run community canteens.
- Some notable examples include the Amma Canteens in Tamil Nadu and Indira Canteens in Karnataka
- Central government should extend the initial capital support; the implementation at the State level should be led by urban local bodies or municipal corporations, in collaboration with private entities as service providers.
- If all urban migrant workers rely on community canteens instead of ONOR, the investment pays back itself in less than six years, as it helps avoid the potential food subsidy outlay due to ONOR, leading to annual savings of about ₹4,500 crore thereafter.
- Community canteens could also contribute to jobs, growth and sustainability. The 60,000 canteens, each serving about 500 beneficiaries on average, would generate more than 1.2 million jobs to serve 90 million meals a day.
- These canteens would also help bridge the nourishment gap among poor urban workers.
- Further, the government should leverage community canteens to shift diets and agriculture production towards more sustainable and sustainably harvested food crops.
- These canteens must incorporate low-cost yet nutritious and environmentally sustainable food items in the plate — bringing in coarse grains such as millets and sorghum into the dietary patterns.
- These canteens would create the demand signals for the farmers to diversify their crops and focus on sustainably harvested produce.
- We live in a time of overabundant food production, but despite this, millions of people in India go hungry every day.
- Under extreme circumstances, the lack of access to food is a matter of survival. But even in regular times, access to nutritious food is essential.
- Pandemic or not, access to affordable and safe food should not be an uncertainty for any section of the society.
- A renewed approach to community canteens would not only achieve nutritional security for migrant workers but would also create new jobs, save fiscal resources, support economic growth and promote sustainable diets and agriculture.