It has been mandated that the National Food Security Ordinance needs to be implemented in the next 6 months by all states. Some states have been tasked to implement it even more quickly. While a few states have shown, perhaps misplaced, bravado in taking on this challenge, most are struggling with how they will manage to achieve this monumental task. There are no clear guidelines on how to move from current beneficiary lists to the new guidelines. While states have been told to take into consideration fair price shop (FPS) viability and institutionalisation of the fair price shops, what has to be done and how it has to be done is not specified. The potential liability claim against the state because of the specific guideline on food allowance in case of non-disbursal of grain to a beneficiary can be humongous unless there are robust beneficiary tracking mechanisms in place at the FPS. Who is helping the states think through these challenges of implementation as they are given a 6-month deadline to implement?
In a similar policy move late last year, 50 districts were announced as Direct Benefits Transfer (DBT) districts and had to launch services within a few months; another 78 were added on April 1, 2013. Unfortunately, 10 months from the initial announcement, the reports that highlight the shortcoming in the DBT implementation far outnumber the reports of successful implementation.
India spends more than R2 lakh crore annually in social safety net schemes that are aimed directly at end beneficiaries. The themes of these schemes cover all topics from food security, healthcare, education, employment, housing, etc. However, the gaps in the implementation of most of these schemes become very evident when one looks at the trends of any of the human development indicators that these schemes were to address. In spite of SSA and RTE, learning level outcomes in public schools continue to decrease almost across the country. We are far away from the MDGs on issues of improved maternal health, child mortality, eradication of extreme poverty and hunger.
What is the reason for this? Why do many of our schemes not meet the stated objectives much more often? The issue is often not in the design of the policy itself and what it aims to achieve. It is in the thinking (or perhaps the lack of thinking) behind the implementation mechanism of the schemes coupled with near impossible timelines for implementation.