Despite the glowing success of India’s corporations in recent years, the country still has significant levels of inequality, leading to malnourishment and hunger among many of its citizens. So, this week, India’s governing party put forward a monumental bill that will reduce the cost of several grains and provide meals to school children in the country.
What’s striking is the massive scale of the bill. It will provide subsidized grains to an estimated 75% of its rural population and 50% of urban residents. To do so, the BBC reports that the country will need 65 million tonnes of grain (currently, they’re processing 55 million tonnes). Furthermore, it’s going to increase the subsidy burden on New Delhi with costs estimated in the $19 billion range.
The amount that each person can receive ranges from 3 kg to 7 kg and includes grains such as wheat and rice. What’s bothering critics is that the bill will be (a) expensive, (b) difficult on resources, and (C) state distribution of food has not been reliable in the past. Firstpost has already put together an ebook (more like a report) on the bill, arguing against it, stating that what India needs is better distribution infrastructure, not necessarily another green revolution.
But the big question for the food bill (aside from the obvious ones on corruption, feasibility, and cost) is sustainability – for how long can India continue to use the subsidy approach to provide basic needs like oil, fertilizer, and even, food? On Twitter, the debate at #Foodbill was quite animated with countless people pointing to the obvious – why don’t we create more opportunities for the poor and hungry so that they don’t have to rely on these massive welfare schemes? The ‘teach a man to fish’ ideology kept reappearing in tweets. For example, a young Delhi resident wrote:
Shekhar Kapur, a noted filmmaker, who’s quite active on Twitter wrote:
shekharkapur Shekhar Kapur
If 75% Indians need subsidies just 2 eat ver is d hyped India story? n how will Walmart help? Food Security Bill
Ironically, the news of the food bill comes the same week that USAID announced a new partnership with India on innovation titled the Millennium Alliance, which will help raise $50 million over the next year to fund solutions in the subcontinent, addressing development concerns.
Maura O’Neill of USAID writes optimistically about the new collaboration:
With a booming social enterprise sector, a number of the world’s leading academics, Nobel Prize winners and thinkers, a vibrant private sector, and world-class NGOs like Pratham, India has been dubbed the innovation hub for the West.
And yet, at the same time, malnourishment in India is more severe than in Africa. So, how can India innovate to get a more sustainable food supply chain? Perhaps, Indian social enterprises and nonprofits involved in the Millennium Alliance can offer some suggestions to the government.
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