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Sanjeev Kumar Patro

Bhubaneswar: When it comes to reports of starvation deaths in the State, including the one from Nuapada recently, Odisha Government not only denied it stoutly but also labelled such reports as rumours spread by vested interests.

But a startling revelation is Odisha has miserably failed to provide monthly rations to the NFSA  (National Food Security Act) beneficiaries in the State this year so far.

The explosive disclosure is Odisha has finished at the bottom in the country for lifting mere 65 per cent of the NFSA rice allocated to the State till June this year. Even, in the offtake of Antodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) rice, meant for poorest of the poor, the State stood at 2nd from the bottom.

This clearly hints at how many NFSA beneficiaries in the State are left in the lurch.

In the above backdrop, the sporadic reports of starvation deaths in the State assume significance. The Odisha Right to Food Campaign has alleged that AAY card holders in State fail to receive their monthly allocation, and as they are the most vulnerable sections, they succumb to hunger, opined Raj Kishore Mishra, senior campaign member.

Now, consider the NFSA food equation. Under NFSA, Odisha saw allocation of around 4.759 Lakh Tonnes (LT) of rice during the period January - June this year. But Odisha could lift only 3.16 LT, which is only around 65 per cent of the total allocation.

Data for the last three month offtake looks more baffling. The State was allocated around 1.598LT in April 2019. But the offtake had been nil. However, in the month of May, Odisha lifted off the May and the April quota, post seeking an extension order from the Centre. Again in June, the State received a monthly allocation of 1.598 LT under NFSA but the offtake by State again was nil.

AAY is for the most vulnerable sections. Odisha was allocated nearly 44,000 tonnes of rice, but the State had not lifted a single kilo in June. The story was same in April. Over all, till June 2019,  an allocation of 1.3LT was made under AAY to Odisha but State had lifted around 87,000 tonnes. The nagging fact is AAY beneficiaries don't have the propensity to purchase monthly food rations at market price.

Interestingly, the NFSA mandates provisioning of 5kg rice at subsidised price per person every month, which means a family of four will avail 20 kg per month. And if any State government fails to provide the monthly mandated ration under NFSA, the State has to issue food security allowance to the beneficiary.

Ground reports in Odisha suggest very few beneficiaries availing the food security allowance in lieu of not availing the monthly ration. Though if a NFSA beneficiary approaches the State Food Commission, the Commission has the authority to pass necessary orders to the State administration in this regard.

But the reality is, the poor in the State neither have the knowhow about such rules under NFSA, nor they have the propensity to fight out against the State administration.

Significantly, a study by eminent agriculture expert Ashok Gulati and Shweta Saini in 2015 had put the PDS leakage in Odisha at a high of around 36 per cent. Policy analysts here take umbrage at the current offtake pattern of PDS commodities in the State as this has the potential of acerbating the already high PDS leakage.

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