A look at some of India’s cheap food schemes

July 23, 2013

Nearly 70 percent of India’s population lives on less than $2 (around 120 rupees) a day, according to World Bank data. The country, the world’s second-largest producer of wheat and rice after China, is also home to a quarter of the world’s hungry.

Helping the poor has always been on the ruling government’s agenda since independence. India, which currently spends 900 billion rupees on giving the poor access to cheap food, hopes to increase it to 1.3 trillion rupees ($22 billion) and widen its scope with an ambitious food security programme launched this month.

The problem is many of the intended beneficiaries don’t realize they’re missing out on existing schemes.

In 2005, a study found that families living below the poverty line in India did not receive more than half of the grains earmarked for the poor due to identification errors and unethical practices. In 2011, the economic survey said leakages in the system are “far too high”.

While the new food security bill aims to bring cheaper food to millions more, there are various welfare schemes which already offer subsidized food to Indians. But one such scheme is at the centre of a storm after 23 children died after having their mid-day meal at a Bihar school.

Here’s a look at some of the government’s existing food schemes. The list is not exhaustive.

Below Poverty Line (BPL): Households having BPL ration cards are issued 35 kg of rice and wheat for 5.65 rupees and 4.15 rupees per kilogram. Last year, the planning commission calculated India’s poverty line for cities at 28.65 rupees per day.

Rice, which is not traded on commodity exchanges in India, is priced between 30 to 150 rupees per kg in the retail market – depending on variety. Wheat costs about 16 rupees per kg.

Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY): The scheme, launched in December 2000, provides 35 kg of grains at heavily subsidized prices to the poorest among the BPL families. Each month, 25 kg of wheat is given at two rupees per kg, while 10 kg of rice is distributed for three rupees per kg.

Above Poverty Line (APL): There are some plans for the not-so-poor as well. Households not covered under the BPL or AAY are eligible to get 35 kg of grains: rice at 8.3 rupees per kg and wheat at 6.10 rupees per kg.

Mid-day Meal Scheme: This programme is facing criticism after 23 children died last week after eating a meal served at school. Catering to about 120 million children every day, this is the world’s largest school feeding programme. The aim is to improve nutritional levels among children, as also encouraging enrolment and attendance. Children get cooked food, including pulses and vegetables.

Annapurna Scheme: This scheme targets senior citizens (65 years or older) and gives food security to those not getting a pension. Each month, beneficiaries get 10 kg of grains at no cost.

Emergency Feeding Programme: This scheme covers around 200,000 people in eight Kalahandi-Balangir-Koraput (KBK) districts in Odisha, considered one of the most backward regions in the country. This scheme provides one cooked meal a day throughout the year, including rice, pulses and vegetables.

Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for Empowerment of Adolescent Girls: The programme aims to improve the health of girls between 11 to 18 years, while also helping them understand more about sexual health and child care. The scheme also provides for health check-ups and supplementary nutrition 300 days a year.

(Mayank Bhardwaj contributed to this post. Details on food schemes sourced from Department of Food & Public Distribution, other government websites. You can follow Aditya on Twitter @adityayk and Mayank @MayankBhardwaj9)

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