Right To Food Campaign
Budget Nirmala Sitaraman 1
The Right to Food Campaign is shocked to see that, at this time of deep crisis the Union Budget 2022-23 has continued to reduce the government spending on the social sector by a huge extent. The negative impact of the economic crisis that began even before the pandemic has fallen disproportionately on those at the bottom of the pyramid. Multiple reports and surveys capture the intense distress among the poor and marginalised sections of society exacerbated due to the pandemic and ensuing restrictions and further slowdown of the economy. India is facing serious inequality where only 5 percent of Indians own more than 60 percent of the country’s wealth while 50 percent of India’s population possesses only three percent of the wealth according to Oxfam India’s report. In this context, spending on social protection schemes such as the PDS, anganwadis, pensions and MGNREGA became especially important. But the Government of India has betrayed the hardworking people of this country by showing no sense of accountability in this year’s Union Budget.
The Right to Food Campaign condemns the sheer insensitivity of the Central Government’s policy decision which will result in reducing the ration entitlement of 81 crore people by 50%. Till December 2022, the ration cardholders were entitled to a 10 kg ration per person since April 2020 (5 kg under NFSA at a subsidized price and 5 kg free under PMGKAY) but with the discontinuation of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) from January 1, 2023, the ration entitlement of people is halved- and they will be entitled to only 5 kgs ration per person (normal NFSA entitlement) instead of the current 10 kgs ration per person (NFSA+PMGKAY).
The requirement, therefore, was to continue the additional foodgrains under PMGKAY and expand the PDS to include non-ration card holders and distribute pulses and oils. However, the budget has reduced the food subsidy allocation by over ₹89,000 crores. The ₹1.97 lakh crore that has been allocated is barely enough to meet the requirements of the regular entitlements under the National Food Security Act.
MGNREGA which directly provides employment and also helps create rural assets has been immensely decreased in this year’s budget reflecting a direct attack on the millions of NREGA workers. Despite over ₹16,000 crores of pending wages, the allocation in this year budget under MGNREGA is only 60,000 crore rupees, therefore the pending liabilities would likely go up to 25,000 crores. The People’s Action for Employment Guarantee (PAEG) and NREGA Sangharsh Morcha in their position demanded that the budget of NREGA for the year 2023-2024 should be 2,73,000 crores rupees with more work days. NREGA continues to be underfunded which will lead to massive delays in wage payments. Excessive digitisation and centralisation of the programme, as well as changes introduced with no worker consultation, make it harder for workers to access their right to employment in NREGA. At the start of this year, NREGA went through a country-wide adoption of the NMMS app. The shift to digital attendance is being protested by workers across states. It has created numerous issues that make it harder for workers to access NREGA work.
Women and children of the country have once again been ignored even when they have been most affected by the pandemic and the continued economic severity. The allocations for samarthya (including maternity entitlements), and PM POSHAN (mid-day meals) have reduced considerably this year as well (see table 1). In the Saksham Anganwadi which includes Anganwadi services, a scheme for adolescent girls and Poshan Abhiyan remains almost the same as compared to the previous year. The Government of India’s fight against malnutrition and the efforts to ensure nutritional security looks like a far dream through the poor budgetary allocation in these crucial departments.
Social security pensions for the aged, single women, and disabled under the National Social Assitance Programme (NSAP) have been reduced significantly creating a major impact on the lives of the most marginalised section of society. Similarly, maternity entitlements that come under Samarthya (including PMMVY and other schemes) saw a decline in this year’s budget allocation. Recently, in an RTI reply, the government has responded that the number of women who are receiving maternity benefits is going down. A letter by a group of over 50 economists was sent to the finance minister in December 2022 with the demand to increase allocations for social security pensions and maternity entitlements. The letter stressed the allocation of at least Rs. 8,000 crores for full-fledged implementation of maternity entitlements as per NFSA norms and an additional Rs. 7,560 crores for old age and widow pension is required with an immediate increase to at least Rs.500 per month from the stagnant amount of Rs. 200 since 2006. This year’s Budget has once again failed to meet this crucial requirement.
To meet the basic constitutional obligations of any democratically elected government, as well as towards a more equitable growth path, we demand that the government rethink the dismal allocations that have been made for these various social sector provisions. We also urge that the members of the Opposition parties raise these issues and speak up for the poor and informal sector workers during the discussions on the Budget in the Parliament. The Right to Food Campaign further demands that the food basket be expanded to include millets and other nutritious commodities such as pulses and oil, after procuring these at the Minimum Support Price (MSP). Further, PDS needs to be universalised to give subsidised rations to everyone who demands it. To begin with, the quotas under the NFSA need to be immediately revised on the basis of the population projections for 2023 as also directed by the Supreme Court in the migrant workers’ case.
Table 1: Budget allocation for Major schemes
In Rs. Crore
Scheme/ Program 2022-23 BE 2023-24 BE
Food Subsidy 206831 197350
MGNREGA 73000 60000
MDMS/PM POSHAN 10234 11600 Increased by 13% but decreased compared to revised estimates
(ICDS, POSHAN Abhiyaan and Creches)
20263.07 20554.31 Increased by 1 %
Samarthya (includes PMMVY and other schemes) 2622.11 2581.96
NSAP (Pensions) 9652 9636.32
Total Agriculture & Allied Sectors 151,521 144,214
Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) 15,500 13,625
PM KISAN 68,000 60,000
Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana 10,433 7,150
Krishionnati Yojana 7,183 7,066
PSS-MIS (Price Support & Market Intervention) 1,500 0.1
(for ensuring MSP)
National Health Mission 37800 36785
LPG Subsidy 5813 2257
* The 2022-23 inflation rate is 6.8 per cent
** Anganwadi and mid-day meals in real terms are lower than allocations in 2014-15 (despite the slight increase in budget estimates for mid-day meals)