Evaluation of the National Food Security Act, 2013 in Bihar: Reflections from the Field Study

The National Food Security Act, 2013 is a far-reaching public policy intervention to protect people against food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition. The NFSA 2013 brings the old public distribution system into the ambit of the NFSA 2013. The NFSA needs to be routinely evaluated for the better performance and assessment of its implementation as per the stated objectives. This study assesses the overall status and progress of the implementation of NFSA 2013 through the PDS in Bihar based on a field study conducted in 14 districts.

The National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013 ensures a legal right to beneficiaries to obtain entitled quantities of foodgrains at highly subsidised prices from the government’s designated outlets for all-India coverage of up to 75% of the rural population and up to 50% of the urban population of the country. The eligible beneficiaries are identified using state-specific criteria and termed priority households (PHH). They are entitled to receive foodgrains of 5 kilogram (kg) per person per month at the issue prices of Rs 3.00, Rs 2.00, and Rs 1.00 per kg for rice, wheat and coarse grains, respectively. However, entitlement and coverage have not changed for Antyodaya Anna Yojana Yojana (AAY) households. They will continue to receive 35 kg of foodgrains per household per month. The promulgation of the NFSA brought the old public distribution system (PDS) into the ambit of the NFSA.

The NFSA is a radical public policy intervention to protect people against food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition. Replacing the earlier targeted public distribution system (TPDS), the NFSA, 2013 encompasses much larger aspects of food security and malnutrition. Along with providing subsidised food, the NFSA entitles nutritious meals for children and maternity benefits (Dreze et al. al. 2015).  Therefore, the successful implementation of NFSA is important to provide food security to the needy sections of society. The NFSA needs to be routinely evaluated for the better performance and assessment of its implementation as per the stated objectives.[1] In Bihar, 14 fourteen districts in eight quarters in a span of two years (2018–20-2020) have been surveyed for the concurrent evaluation of NFSA. The main objective of the concurrent evaluation is to assess the overall status and progress of the implementation of NFSA 2013and measure and monitor the change it has brought in, specifically:

  1. System level assessment and analysis of the progress of implementation of various aspects of the NFSA 2013.
  2. Evaluate the benefits of NFSA on the target groups in light of objectives stipulated under the NFSA.

The effective functioning of the PDS can reduce the poverty level (Dreze and Khera 2013). Dreze and Khera (2013), however, show that the pace of poverty reduction is much slower in Bihar in comparison to Chhattisgarh (Dreze and Khera 2013). In fact, PDS in Bihar was in precarious condition during the first decades of this century.  The situation was so poor that the PDS could hardly impact in reducing poverty. Dreze and Khera (2015) in another exercise, estimated leakage in PDS as high as 91% in Bihar.  This also indicates the poor institutional arrangements and implementation of the PDS. But the introduction of food coupons (now no longer existexists) improved the PDS in the state (Choithani and Pritchard 2015). Dreze and Khera also show that the leakage in PDS is substantially reduced to 24% during 2011-12 in Bihar (Dreze and Khera 2015). This may be attributed to policy initiative in order to revive the PDS in Bihar. The promulgation of NFSA is a great opportunity for the state to fight against hunger and malnutrition since NFSA covers most of its population of the state. This requires a well-functioning PDS. The main purpose of the concurrent evaluation of NFSA 2013 is to identify the gaps in the PDS in terms of actual implementation at the ground level as per the guidelines mentioned in NFSA. The study, not only surveys households, but also interviewed government officials and FPS dealers to understand different perspectives. This evaluation study will help the central and state governments to find the gaps in implementation of NFSA, and also take corrective policy actions based on the findings.  

This article will help understand the present condition of the PDS after implementation of NFSA 2013.  e, based on the field study of 14 districts of Bihar is an attempt to understand the condition of PDS in general and implementation, particularly in Bihar. The focus of the article is to capture different dynamics of PDS from the perspectives of different stakeholders such as beneficiaries, fair price shops (FPS), FPS dealers, etc.

The next section of the article describes the methodological framework of the study. The third section of the article presents the key findings and field observations on the implementation status of NFSA in the state. The fourth and last section concludes the article.

 

Data and Methodology

A multi-stage sample design has been adopted for the study. In each quarter, two districts have been selected, one each from the National Sample Survey’s (NSS) central and northern regions of Bihar using the equal probability approach as the first-stage sample unit (FSU)[2]. A total of 14 districts in eight quarters have been surveyed during the survey period (2018–20 -20).From each district, five villages/urban wards have been selected randomly, constituting the second-stage unit (SSU) sample.  Ten percent SSU constitutes urban wards in each quarter (as the rate of urbanisation of the state is around 11%). This means that one urban unit has been selected in each quarter out of 10 SSU in two districts.

The final stage unit (FSU) is the household in each district based on the rural/urban distribution of NFSA beneficiary households. At this last stage of sampling, 10 PHHs and five AAY households have been selected using a random sampling method from each village/urban ward. This implies that 75 households have been covered from each district. Thus, as a whole 1,050 households in 14 districts have been surveyed in eight quarters.

In addition to the above, FPS and FPS-level vigilance committees have also been included in the survey. One FPS has been selected from each village/urban ward and the FPS dealers have been interviewed. One godown (warehouse) from each district has also been visited. The concerned district official has also been interviewed.

The data has been collected through a structured interview schedule for the household. In addition to this, other checklists, consisting of unstructured questions, have also been used to collect information from other stakeholders, such as FPS dealers, godown managers, and district- level officials. The study tools have been developed centrally to maintain the uniformity of the information. The research team, engaged in data collection, has been trained on various aspects of PDS, NFSA, and data collection method. Five percent of collected data has also been back -checked and validated in the field by the principal investigators.

Findings

The major findings of the study are presented from the different levels, such as household level, FPS level, etc. It includes both the demand and supply side of the food security provisions and the effectiveness of grievance redressal mechanisms within the system.

Household Level

All the eligible households could not be covered under the NFSA. The exclusion aspects of PDS could be understood  in two ways:first, looking at the existence of eligible but uncovered households under NFSA, and second, looking at the households that are identified but all members are not identified (listed on the ration card), so they remain excluded. These households do not receive their full entitlement, as every member of the family is not listed.

Looking into the first aspect, we tried to apprehend the perceptions of respondents regarding uncovered households. Respondents reported their knowledge of such households who are eligible but uncovered. They think that such households exist in all the districts except in West Champaran and Munger district. Maximum respondents, that is, 30 out of 75 respondents (40%) in Sitamarhi district, stated that such excluded households exist in the sampled area. TheSuch excluded households were visited to validate the claim, and it. It was found correct. To look into the second aspect of exclusion which is visible in the case of PHHs, there are considerable numbers of households in the surveyed districts that do not receive their full entitlement over the past six months, except for Buxar, Sheikhpura, and Munger districts. However, there is no such AAY household except in Gopalganj and Purnea.

 

The second issue covered in this study is the accessibility and quality aspects of the PDS. Two important parameters of malpractices in the PDS are underweight and overcharged. The objective was to know the people’s perception. There are four districts (Jamui, Madhepura, Munger, Buxar) where the beneficiary does not experience any underweight. But in Gopalganj and Rohtas districts, the percentage of such households stands at 13.33%. Except in Sitamarhi and Purnea districts, households have been overcharged in all other remaining districts during the last one year. The percentage is above 50%in Rohtas and West Champaran districts.

As far as the quality of foodgrains is concerned, the picture is fairly good. In most of the districts, respondents did not find any foreign particles in the food grains. Only in Khagaria, above 5 percent of respondents found foreign particles in the food grains. The beneficiaries have shown satisfaction with the quality of food grains received from the FPS.

 

Most of the respondents think that the PDS is very important for ensuring food security for their households (Table 1). There has been an overwhelming preference for foodgrains over cash subsidies. Only in three districts (Jamui, Khagaria and Gopalganj) 9.33%  of households prefer cash subsidies over foodgrains. As a whole, in fourteen districts, only 3.7% households want direct cash transfer. This is much lower in comparison to the study of Pradhan et al. All (2019). Their study shows this may be attributed to different reasons. Households feel that the market is costlier, and therefore, it would be beneficial to have food grains through FPS instead of cash transfers. Some of the respondents also showed apprehension of misuse of cash by the male members of the family. They think that the money will be squandered on unnecessary things and the children and elderly will not get food. On the other hand, timely distribution of foodgrains and, quality improvement has as discussed above  created a positive impact for the preference of foodgrains. Another dimension is the time taken to withdraw the money from the bank. Banks branches are not spread throughout all the blocks. Therefore, the apprehension is that one needs to forgo one day’s work to go to the bank and withdraw money. At the same time, some other costs, such as travel costs, involve in going to bank branches.[3][i]

An attempt has been made to estimate the share of PDS in household’s consumption of food grains. There is high variation among the districts. The highest share is recorded at 62.24 percent in Sitamarhi district, while the lowest share is in Jamui district at 34.87 percent. 

Table 1: Average Share of PDS in Household’s Consumption of Foodgrains and Preference of Cash Subsidies (%)

Districts

Share of PDS in Total Consumption

Prefer Cash Subsidy over Foodgrains

Sitamarhi

62.24

0.00

Patna

49.95

8.00

West Champaran

57.44

0.00

Jamui

34.87

9.33

Madhepura

47.55

4.00

Khagaria

52.446

9.33

Gopalganj

46.08

9.33

Buxar

43.71

0.00

Siwan

54.66

0.00

Sheikhpura

52.97

6.67

Darbhanga

57.2

0.00

Rohtas

56.57

1.33

Munger

52.83

1.33

Purnea

52.67

2.67

 

 

As far as the awareness level of the respondents regarding processes and provisions of NFSA is concerned, the study reveals that the awareness level is low. The level of awareness on all the parameters, such as eligibility criteria for ration card, availing benefits and services of NFSA, online facility under NFSA is not satisfactory (Table 2).

One of the important aspects of NFSA 2013, as stipulated in Section 13, is that the eldest woman of the household will be recognised as the head of the family for the ration card (Nayak and Nehra 2017). However, only in Sheikhpura and West Champaran districts, the eldest women of the family are recognised as head in all sample households. The percentage of households where eldest women are not recognised as head of the family is above 25 percent in three districts, Sitamarhi, Jamui, and Gopalganj (Table 2).

Table 2: Awareness level of beneficiaries on different aspects of NFSA and recognition of eldest woman as Head of HH (in %)

Districts

Aware of Eligibility Criteria

Aware of Process of Availing Benefits

Aware of Online Facility of Availing Benefits

HHs Where Eldest Woman Is not Recognised Head

Sitamarhi

4.00

5.33

0.00

28.0

Patna

6.67

0.00

1.33

2.66

West Champaran

2.67

1.33

0.00

0.00

Jamui

4.00

0.00

5.33

26.33

Madhepura

0.00

0.00

2.67

22.66

Khagaria

9.33

14.67

0.00

15.7

Gopalganj

9.33

5.33

14.67

25.33

Buxar

6.67

9.33

9.33

10.66

Siwan

9.33

9.33

18.67

13.33

Sheikhpura

8.00

6.67

25.33

0.00

Darbhanga

6.67

5.33

5.33

5.33

Rohtas

0.00

8.00

8.00

14.66

Munger

4.00

1.33

2.67

9.33

Purnea

0.00

0.00

0.00

4.0

FPS Level

In each village/urban ward one FPS is visited. Total 70 FPSs of 14 districts are covered during the survey.  FPSs visited are well maintained and functioning well, mostly. However, there are a few FPS that need further improvement. Most of the studied FPSs shops are also connected by pucca roads. But two FPS of Sheikhpura district are not connected by a pucca road. It has also been observed that all the necessary information is displayed in FPS. The FPS are also very accessible and within walking distance of the respondents.  Most of the respondents travel less than 1 km to reach the FPS. As far as source of information about distribution of food grains by local ration shops is concerned, for the majority of respondents, it is the PDS dealers who make the information available, followed by neighbours and personal visits in all the villages and urban wards of the studied districts.

 

Monthly income earned by FPS dealers is through commission of foodgrains and sale of gunny bags. The major expenditure for them is salary head. A few FPS dealers need to pay rent for the shop as well. However, some FPS have no expenditure since they carry all the jobs on their own.  There is high variation among the districts in monthly average income. The lowest profit is registered in Gopalganj district being at Rs 25,990 while the highest is in Madhepura district being at Rs 1,57,148.

 

 

Supply Chain Management

An effective and robust supply chain management system ensures the minimisation of leakages in distribution of food grains under PDS. The food calendar of the district is fixed by the district supply officer in consultation with the district managers of the Bihar State Food and Civil Supply Corporation (BSFCSC) on a monthly basis. The dealers submit challans in the first week of current month as per the offtake of previous month; whereas the Supply Issuance Order is generated immediately after the receipt of challans. If the FPS dealer fails to distribute the foodgrains in the current month, seven extra days are given the next month. Foodgrain allocation from SFC godowns to FPS must be completed by the 25th day of every month. The district manager of SFC procures foodgrains by sending monthly requisitions to the Food Corporation of India (FCI), which sends information to Assistant Godown Manager (AGM) of Bihar State Food Corporation over telephone and also maintains a register book. The FCI sends the foodgrains to SFC godowns through its outsourced contractors. Once the BSFCSC receives the supply from FCI, it allocates food grains further to each FPSs. These godowns dispatch food grains to the block-level godowns of the district of BSFCSC.

PDS in Bihar has not been fully online. The FPSs are made online through the installation of electronic point of sale (E-PoS) machine recently. Initially, the survey did not find E-PoS machines in any of the surveyed districts, but towards the end of the survey the installation started. The linkage between allocation of foodgrains, offtake from the godowns, and its distribution are maintained online except distribution of foodgrains among beneficiaries at FPS. However, all the surveyed FP shops are still not working online due to poor internet connectivity. It was also found that the dealers were maintaining the stock position in the old register along with online transactions. All the works at SFC and FCI are carried out online. Doorstep delivery is completely tracked online, through global positioning system (GPS). Supply chain application has been deployed in godowns.

However, the maintenance of the foodgrains at godown is not very satisfactory at the district level. Most of the districts lack proper storage facility since the capacity of godown is less than requirement. These godowns are mostly on rent and lacked basic infrastructure as well, such as metalledal road, proper connectivity, bridge weight machine, toilets, drinking water, fire extinguisher, etc. Storage of foodgrains in the rainy season is more challenging as roofs of some of the godowns are also found damaged. The adequacy and efficacy of the quality control mechanism of PDS has been improved rapidly in the last few years. However, there is still some scope of improvement and certain areas require immediate attention.

Grievance Redressal Mechanism and Vigilance Committee

Section 14 of NFSA 2013 places extra importance on grievance redressal mechanism (GRM) at every level. The effective system of grievance redressal can ensure a robust functioning of PDS, connecting supply and demand sides. However, the grievance redressal system has not been functioning properly at the desired level in all the districts. It has been found in the survey that most of the households do not have any idea about such a mechanism. Further, none of the respondents ever used any kind of toll-free number to register the complaint.  None of the surveyed household has ever raised any grievance related to the functioning of ration shops/PDS during the last one year. Either District Magistrate or Additional District Magistrate is designated as the District Grievance Redressal Officer (DGRO) in all the districts. However, the district-level officials of all the surveyed 14 districts claimed that they take up awareness generation drives from time to time through banners and posters. The PDS dealers also facilitate the awareness generation drives.

Section 29 of the NFSA, 2013 prescribes for the setting up of vigilance committees at the State, District, Block and FPS levels. This is the responsibility of the state government to set up all the committees comprising such persons as may be prescribed by them, giving due representation to the local authorities, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, women, destitute or persons with disability in these committees. Section 29 of the act further stipulates the functions of the VCs. The VCs are expected to strengthen PDS by placing effective GRM. The effective functioning of vigilance committees will also ensure successful functioning of PDS. However, out of 70 FPS visited during the survey in fourteen districts, only 31 vigilance committees at FPS level have been constituted. No vigilance committee at FPS level has been formed in West Champaran, Jamui, Khagaria and Darbhanga districts. All five VCs at the FPS level have been formed in Sheikhpura district, but not found functioning properly. Though in some districts the District Level Vigilance Committees are formed but not functioning well. Under Section 28 of NFSA 2013, it is mandatory to conduct social audits at periodic intervals. However, a social audit has not been conducted in most of the surveyed districts. Patna and Munger districts have initiated the process of social audit very recently.

Conclusions and Suggestions

Bihar is one of the greatest beneficiaries of NFSA since the mandatory coverage is 86% in a rural area and 75% in an urban area (Dreze et al 2015). To yield the benefit as stipulated in NFSA 2013, Bihar needs a robust PDS in the state. Bihar witnessed abnormal (more than 75%) leakages in the distribution of food grain (Balani 2013), but of late, the leakages have gone down (Dreze and Khera 2015). However, all the districts are not performing equally well on different aspects of PDS. This article is an attempt to understand the present condition of PDS in Bihar from the perspectives of different stakeholders. There may be some possibility of under or over reporting in responding to different queries. Nevertheless, the study offers a picture of the implementation of NFSA 2013 in Bihar.

Based on the findings from the study, the functioning of the PDS in Bihar has made a definite and considerable improvement, especially in the timely distribution of foodgrains, controlling leakages, and quality of distributed foodgrains. People accumulate on an average roughly 50 percent share of consumption through the PDS. People also overwhelmingly prefer grain distribution in lieu of cash subsidy.  However, there are certain dimensions that need to be revitalised. The status of FPSs should be reviewed on a regular basis to see that they are maintained well. All necessary information including the contact number of the authority should be written on the display board of FPSs wherever applicable. All the vigilance committees need to be constituted on an urgent basis and all the VCs should be strengthened so that their regular meetings could be organised. The capacity building programme needs to be organised to sensitise the members of the VC about their roles and responsibilities and activities. GRMs need to be further strengthened to make PDS more transparent and accountable. The social audit, which is absent now, needs to be conducted at a regular interval.

The godown needs to be equipped with modern facilities such as fire extinguishers, a proper room for supply chain management, toilets, etc. The mechanism for beneficiary identification needs to be made more effective so that no genuine household is excluded from the process. The awareness generation programmes at the beneficiary level should be organised regularly to make them aware of the provisions of NFSA and the rights of beneficiaries. Certain definite measures could also be taken up by the government to make the existing toll-free number effectively functional. The feedback and complaints from the eligible beneficiaries through the toll-free number will further improve the implementation of NFSA in the state. The doorstep delivery of the items should be made available for the differently abled persons and elderly people. The portability of the ration card should be in place. All these measures will certainly ensure more accountability of different stakeholders including officials, FPS dealers and people’s active participation. The special attention also makes the PDS more transparent and sensitive in the state of Bihar.

 

     

 

 

This article is based on the project study “Concurrent Evaluation of National Food Security Act 2013 in Bihar,” conducted by A N Sinha Institute of Social Studies, Patna. Sincere acknowledgment is expressed towards the Department of Food and Public Distribution, Government. of India for assigning this study to the institute. The authors are also grateful to the anonymous referee for the comments that helped improving the article.

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