A disturbing aspect of the union budget for the year 2023-24 relates to food and nutrition. In the case of most allocations there is a decline compared to the previous year or else there is near stagnation, which also means a decline in real terms after accounting for inflation.
Although so many schemes and programs impact the food and nutrition situation, here we concentrate attention on five leading programs.
The highest expenditure incurred in the context of food and nutrition is on the food subsidy given by the government to the Food Corporation of India under the National Food Security Act. INR 208929 crore (one crore=10 million) was spent on this during 2021-22. During the next year the Revised Estimate (RE) for this was INR 214696 crore. As compared to this, the allocation for 2023-24 in the recently presented union budget is only INR 137207. This is only about two-third of last year’s revised budget while the need is for higher allocation taking into account inflation and higher number of people.
The food subsidy for decentralized procurement of food grain under the NFSA was INR 79789 crore in 2021-22. The Revised Estimate for 2022-23 was INR 72282 crore. By way of comparison, this has come down to INR 59793 crore in the allocation for 2023-24.
For meeting subsistence food needs of the poorest, MG-NREGA, or rural employment guarantee program mandated by law, is very important. INR 98467 crore was spent on this program in 2021-22. The revised estimate for this in 2022-23 was INR 89400 crore. However the allocation for financial year 2023-24 regarding this program with legal stipulations attached to it amounts to only INR 60000 crore.
Next we come to two core nutrition programs which have been renamed and have taken a new form with mergers. In the case of Saksham Poshan and Anganwadi the allocation this year is almost the same as the previous year. However in real terms, after accounting for inflation, this is a decline. Then we must also consider that last year also this was considered to be inadequate allocation keeping in view real needs.
In the case of the second core nutrition program, called PM Poshan, the revised estimate last year was INR 12800 crore while the budget allocation this year is only INR 11600 crore, despite being much talk of improving and adding to this program.
While there are several other programs and schemes which impact the nutrition situation, these five are generally the most discussed ones. Therefore the fact that there is a downward trend in all five of these is deeply worrying.
Hence there is a clear need for the government to increase these allocations significantly when revised estimates are prepared. There should be a strong public campaign for this so that the nutrition situation can still be protected at a time when a very large number of people are facing economic difficulties.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include India’s Quest for Sustainable Farming and Healthy Food, Planet in Peril and Man over Machine.