A study by Yale Economic Growth Centre released on Friday makes out a case for a universal PDS system in post-COVID India and community kitchens. Cash transfers alone, the study suggests, is unlikely to reach all the poor in the country. The study welcomed the initiative to distribute low-cost grains to all NGOs engaged in relief work but pleaded for the release of additional grains to sustain community kitchens in all states. Universal access to food rations as in Tamil Nadu would also be needed in rest of the states, the study says.
The study has been jointly authored by Rohini Pande, Simone Schaner, Charity Troyer Moore and Elena Stacy.
The study reinforces the urgent pleas made by economists like Jean Dreze to unlock Food Corporation of India’s godowns and distribute foodgrains free to the poor. Among India’s foremost public intellectuals Pratap Bhanu Mehta also, writing in the Saturday edition of The Indian Express, drew attention to the dire straits of India’s poor.
“50 per cent, if not more, of households in India, will not have savings, assets or resources to survive even a couple of months of stopping economic activity. The fall in poverty in the last two decades has blinded us to the precariousness of most households,” writes Mehta on the editorial page of the newspaper.
The Yale study makes the following points:
· We find that more than half of poor women are likely to be excluded from the cash transfer program.
· One in five poor women live in households that lack ration cards
· Approximately 70 million poor women lack a ration card and cannot access standard PDS benefits.
· 86% of women below the poverty line say it would be very difficult or somewhat difficult to pull together 6,000 Rupees within a month to deal with a medical emergency.
· Government of India data reports that women own 205 million PMJDY accounts as of April 2020.
· Over 326 million women live below the poverty line, so more than one-third of poor women would be excluded from the benefit even if all female-owned PMJDY accounts belonged to poor women.
· Not all PMJDY accounts are owned by the poor.
· FII-based estimates show that the share of all PMJDY accounts that belong to women below the poverty line is approximately 75%. This implies that 150 million of the 200 million PMJDY accounts belong to poor women. (50 million account holders are not so poor)
· With over 326 million women living below the poverty line, more than half are thus excluded.
· 78% of poor female respondents state they have a bank account, while just 23% of poor women say they have a PMJDY account.
· Extending transfers to banked women who don’t own a PMJDY account would substantially increase inclusion.
· Twenty-six percent of poor women live more than 5km away from their nearest banking point, according to FII survey reports.
· The FII reports also suggest many women do not know their accounts are PMJDY accounts, which could complicate access and withdrawals.