Right to Food Campaign has expressed disappointment with the Union Budget for 2021-22 as it has reduced allocations for “crucial” social security schemes such as the integrated child development services (ICDS), mid-day meals, maternity entitlements, and the national rural employment guarantee Act (NREGA) at a time of growing hunger and malnutrition.
The revised budget estimates for 2020-21 show that ICDS and Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) “suffered greatly” because of the lockdown and closing of Anganwadi centers. The revised estimate for PMMVY (Rs 1,300 crore for 2020-21) was barely half of what was initially allocated for the program for 2020-21.
“That itself was low as the scheme covers only the first child, with a reduced benefit of Rs 5000, while the National Food Security Act (NFSA) entitles all pregnant women to a maternity benefit of at least Rs 6000 per child,” the Right to Food Campaign said in a statement on Wednesday.
In the 2021-22 budget, the ICDS and PMMVY have been clubbed with other schemes, but comparing like with like, it is clear that both programs have been undermined. The budget allocation for the mid-day meal program for elementary school children is pretty much the same in 2021-22 as in 2020-21, lower in real terms.
The 2021-22 budget for the National Social Assistance Program (NSAP) has been “copy-pasted” from the 2020-21 budget, and is also lower in real terms. The budget includes an allocation of R 1,000 crore for the women and children of Assam and Bengal’s tea gardens, but no details have been provided on how this money will be utilized, the .
“It is also disappointing to see that there is no announcement in the budget to expand the Public Distribution System (PDS) to include those who are excluded from the NFSA, to update the population estimates to calculate NFSA coverage, or to include items such as edible oil and pulses.”
While it seems like the food subsidy has increased, this is only a reflection of the central government finally paying the FCI for the grains distributed over the last few years, the Right to Food Campaign added.
The Right to Food Campaign noted that recent Hunger Watch survey results have shown that distress among marginalized communities continues even after the lockdown was lifted, with people having lower incomes and reduced food consumption. Even before the lockdown, nutrition levels had stopped improving for some time now, it said, referring to the initial results of the fifth National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5).
It demanded that the Union government should universalize PDS. Pulses and edible oil should also become legal entitlements under the PDS. They should be procured at the Minimum Support Price (MSP).
“Provision of additional food rations under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) should continue for another year”.
The Right to Food Campaign also demanded that provision for hot cooked meals under the ICDS and the midday meal scheme should be "revived immediately”. While the budgets for these programs should make adequate provisions for inclusion of eggs in the meals, hot cooked meals should extend to children under three years of age through crèches as well as to pregnant and lactating women through community kitchens.
“Maternity entitlements should be universalized and made unconditional. The amount of benefit should be increased to at least Rs 6,000 per child, as per the provisions of NFSA. All workers providing care work, such as Anganwadi Workers and Helpers, ASHAs, should be provided with at least the minimum wage and decent working conditions, it added.