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From Policy to Plate: The Unseen Struggles of Andhra Pradesh's Tribal Communities

Rahul Mukkera and Chakradhar Buddha
Jun 21, 2024
In Andhra Pradesh, several PVTG and eligible non-PVTG (Adivasi) households are unable to avail the facilities provided under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana scheme and face systemic exclusions.

Amidst a remote village in eastern ghats of Andhra Pradesh, Gemmeli Judungi, a 57-year-old widow from the Kondhu community, which is a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG) faces daily challenges living alone after her husband’s demise. Despite receiving a modest social security pension of Rs 3,000 from Andhra Pradesh’s flagship programme and possessing a Public Distribution System (PDS) card entitling her to just five kilograms of rice monthly, she often struggles to afford to get additional rice required for her sustenance.

Her journey to the weekly market involves traversing difficult terrain, including streams, hills and valleys, and walking for hours to purchase rice at Rs 30 per kg. Additionally, she has to shoulder the burden of old age and financial constraints. She ends up spending approximately Rs 600 every month on rice alone, nearly 20% of her social security pension.

For Judungi and others in similar circumstances, the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) scheme could provide crucial support, offering 35 kgs of food grains per month at subsidised rates. However, Judungi remains excluded from this vital assistance. Notably, several PVTG and eligible non-PVTG (Adivasi) households have to face such systemic exclusions in Andhra Pradesh. 

An overview of the AAY scheme

Launched in 2000, the AAY scheme seeks to provide food security to India’s poorest households, initially covering 1 crore households and later expanding to 2.50 crore households by 2004-05. The AAY scheme was integrated into the PDS post the enactment of National Food Security Act (NFSA) in 2013, transforming the scheme from a welfare initiative into a legal guarantee. 

At present, irrespective of the number of family members, each household under the AAY scheme is entitled to receive 35 kgs of food grains every month at subsidised prices. The NFSA also offers a Priority Household (PHH) scheme that provides 5 kgs of food grains to each individual. While not explicitly stated in the regulations, the AAY cards are intended for the “poorest of the poor,” whereas the PHH cards are for poor households.

As per the Andhra Pradesh Food Security Rules 2017, the state government has prioritised certain vulnerable groups to be benefited from the AAY scheme that includes all PVTG households, widows or single women without family support, and disabled persons or those aged 60 years or older. However, despite these priorities, numerous eligible households, particularly in tribal regions like Paderu Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA), are excluded from the AAY scheme.

A recent study by LibTech India has uncovered alarming exclusions of PVTG and eligible non-PVTG households from the AAY scheme. This exclusion has led to a significant loss of food grains for many families, compounded by transparency issues in the implementation of the PDS. Conducted across 42 tribal habitations in G. Madugula and Chintapalli blocks of Alluri Sitharamaraju (ASR) district in Andhra Pradesh, the study surveyed 2,245 tribal households, highlighting the systemic challenges faced by both PVTG and eligible non-PVTG communities.

Identifying exclusions among PVTG and eligible Non-PVTG households

The LibTech India study revealed that nearly 49% of PVTG households are excluded from the AAY scheme which translates into significant food insecurity for these already vulnerable groups. The study also highlighted that nearly 80% of eligible non-PVTG households were excluded from the AAY scheme. These eligible non-PVTG households, identified through social security pension schemes for widows, single women, the disabled, and the elderly, face similar hardships due to insufficient food grain entitlements.

These excluded PVTG and eligible non-PVTG households, despite their eligibility, have PHH cards, which provide significantly less foodgrains.

Loss of food grains and financial burden

The exclusion of eligible tribal households from the AAY scheme results in a significant loss of food entitlements. The study estimates that on an average, excluded PVTG and eligible non-PVTG households in the surveyed region lose about 20 kgs of food grains per month per household. This loss translates to an additional financial burden of approximately Rs 600 per month for these households, which is substantial considering the monthly income of these households, forcing them to purchase food grains at market prices to meet their dietary needs.

When Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy assumed office as the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh in 2019, his administration introduced new rice cards, mirroring the previous BPL cards. However, during the 2020 issuance of rice cards, households with AAY cards were mistakenly or deliberately given PHH cards, significantly slashing their monthly food grain entitlements. This shift offers a financial incentive for the state, as converting AAY cards to PHH cards allows Andhra Pradesh to save on allocations from the central government, enabling the state to cut down its subsidy burden since it subsidises more than the central quota.

Compounding this problem is a lack of awareness among officials about the eligibility criteria for non-PVTG households across different categories. Moreover, the Union government’s current policies do not permit the issuance of new AAY cards, resulting in a steady decline in the number of beneficiaries.

Information-related challenges

The study also uncovered that numerous households possessing AAY cards are unaware of their ownership status. As a result of this lack of information, local officials or dealers exploited this opportunity by issuing unauthorised paper slips to right holders, falsely categorising them as PHH cardholders, thereby depriving them of entitled benefits. Furthermore, the study emphasised that Adivasi cardholders frequently do not receive ration at the correct subsidised rates, primarily due to their limited understanding of the applicable costs.

Data gaps and distribution disparities

The core issue stems from the Government of India’s outdated data on poor households due to the delay in conducting the national census. An updated census would accurately identify households eligible for the AAY scheme, enabling a revision of the AAY card quota allocated to states. Noted economist Jean Dreze, in a recent article in The Hindu, argues that the number of people benefiting from subsidised food rations would increase by more than 100 million if updated census figures were available to revise the coverage of the NFSA.

The absence of this crucial data and the lack of revision of the AAY quota for states have left many eligible households, particularly poor tribals and especially PVTGs, excluded from the scheme. This has exacerbated food insecurity among the poorest segments of the population.

Also read: How Karnataka Is Delivering Rations to People Aged 90 and Above

The Andhra Pradesh government has consistently argued over the past five years that the state is receiving an unfairly low PDS quota compared to more prosperous states like Maharashtra and Karnataka. According to 2021-22 data, Maharashtra receives 4,605 MT and Karnataka 2,608 MT of food grains, while Andhra Pradesh only gets 1,872 MT from the Union government. This disparity worsens food insecurity for vulnerable populations, particularly PVTGs and poor tribals in Andhra Pradesh, underscoring the urgent need for a more equitable resource distribution based on current and accurate data.

Lack of local monitoring and implementation issues

One critical issue is the lack of space for local panchayats to monitor the implementation of the food security schemes effectively. The Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) empowers local governance structures to oversee various developmental programmes. However, in practice, these panchayats often have limited involvement in the monitoring and rectification of errors within the AAY scheme. This gap in local oversight contributes to persistent implementation issues and exclusion errors, further marginalising vulnerable tribal communities.

Probable solutions 

To address these challenges, several measures can be implemented:

  1. Utilise PM JANMAN data: The Union government has asked the states to collect information on the PVTG households. Leveraging data from the PM JANMAN initiative can help accurately identify PVTG households and ensure their inclusion in the AAY scheme.
  2. Request additional AAY cards: The state government should request the Union government to issue additional AAY ration cards for newly identified eligible households.
  3. Interim state support: Until additional AAY cards are issued, the state should provide interim support to the excluded households.
  4. Extend support to non-PVTG households: Similar measures should be taken to include eligible non-PVTG households in the AAY scheme by using social security pensions data as a proxy to identify eligible individuals.
  5. Improve information access: Key details about ration cards and entitlements should be publicly displayed in local languages to ensure transparency and accountability and to arrest corruption.
  6. Enhanced information dissemination: Implement community-based information dissemination systems to ensure that all eligible households are aware of their entitlements and the application process for new ration cards.
  7. Issuance of AAY cards upon vacancy: The state is permitted to issue AAY cards when a vacancy arises, ensuring that deserving households are not left out due to quota limitations.
  8. Strengthen local monitoring: Empower local panchayats under the PESA Act to actively monitor the implementation of the AAY scheme, ensuring that the benefits reach the intended recipients and errors are promptly rectified.
  9. Periodic social audits: Conduct regular social audits involving local communities through PESA committees. This can help identify and rectify errors in the implementation of the AAY scheme, ensuring greater accountability and transparency.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations defines ‘food security’ as all people, at all times, having physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. In this framework, the AAY scheme has the potential to significantly improve food security among India’s most vulnerable populations.

However, the exclusion of vulnerable tribal communities from the food security schemes represents a violation of Right to Food under the NFSA which is an extension of Right to Life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. By addressing the gaps highlighted and enhancing information access, the state can ensure that schemes like the AAY fulfil their promise of providing food security to all eligible households, alleviating hunger, and improving the quality of life for marginalised communities.

Additionally, adhering to the provisions of the PESA Act can empower the local governance structure to play a more active role in monitoring and implementing these schemes, ensuring that the benefits reach the intended recipients. Regular social audits involving local communities through PESA committees can further ensure transparency and accountability in the implementation of food security schemes.

Rahul Mukkera and Chakradhar Buddha are affiliated with LibTech India, an organisation focused on improving transparency, accountability, and democratic engagement in public service delivery.

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