The ruling Congress Party in Karnataka is banking on the Anna Bhagya scheme – its flagship project to make food grains affordable to the common man – to return to power in next year’s assembly elections.PavanVasista examines the impact of the scheme ahead of next year’s assembly elections
According to C-Fore, the Congress would get 120 to 132 if elections were held today. The BJP could finish with 60-72 seats and JD (S) 24 to 30 seats in the 225 member assembly.C-Fore claims that their predictions for 2008 and 2013 assembly elections in Karnataka have been 99% accurate.
Opposition parties have dismissed the survey as “biased”, alleging that C-Fore founder PremchandPalety was part of the Vision Group formed by the Siddaramaiah government.
The C-Fore survey stated that the common man was more than satisfied with Anna Bhaghya, the populous scheme where rice was provided at Re.1 a kilogram.
In one set of the survey, about 79% of the respondents voted Anna Bhagya scheme as one of the best government schemes of the Congress government.
Karnataka Today has found that with foodgrains available at subsidized rates, families were looking beyond food to other needs such as better educational options for their children. Some families were diverting the money towards a better cause like educating their kids and buying insurance policies for the family members among others.
B Veeramma of Uttangerehundi in Gundlupet taluk wants the “government rice” but not government school education for her children.
“Anna Bhagya helped our family for three years. We were able to save at least Rs 2, 000 per month with which we were able to send our children to a private school,” said Veeramma. “But I’ll say our foodgrain quota is not enough for our family of eight.”
For the below poverty line card holders, the government was initially giving a maximum of 30 kilograms per family. Now it has been reduced to seven kgs of rice per unit (household).
In yet another case, HB Rajappa from the same village said the money saved went to pay for insurance. “Now, I don’t have to spend more on foodgrains. With the savings, I have bought an LIC policy,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean I’m going to vote for the Congress.”
Anna Bhagya was launched on July 10, 2013, with Rs 3046 crore budget to benefit 1.09 crore families. The budgeted amount was cut to Rs 2533 crore in 2014-15 though the government ended up spending Rs 4500 crore on 1.10 crore families.
The state government procured 2.53 lakh MT of rice to be distributed across 21,000 fair price shops.
To start with though, Anna Bhagya had its quota of teething problems. There were complaints about the quality of food grains, and that beneficiaries were re-selling their quota of food grains to private groceries at a higher price.
The complaints prompted the government to raid private godowns and illegal depots. Nearly 34 lakh kg rice and 92,000 kg of wheat were seized since 2013.
There were also allegations that bogus BPL cards were used to procure Anna Bhagya food grains which was an embarrassment for the government.
Raids and periodical inspections unearthed nearly 10 lakh bogus cards saving nearly 40,000 MT of food grains every month.
“Consumers can apply for a ration card online and they are linked with Aadhar card number to ensure 99% efficiency," said, U T Khader, Minister for Food and Civil Supplies.
“Karnataka is using only 20% of rice grown here for the scheme, the rest of the food grains are procured form Chhattisgarh and the Food Corporation of India,” Khader said. “The government is constantly monitoring the quality of food grains received. We are providing quality product almost free of cost to the poor.”
BJP spokesperson G.Madhusudhan however said that the Anna Bhagya was introduced by the BJP-led Union government and that the Congress party was reaping the benefits.
“The BJP-led central government introduced Anthoyodaya Anna Yojana Scheme (AAY). An amount of 30 kg rice was provided at the subsidized rate of Rs. 2.50 per kg. We will launch a campaign and tell the truth to the people of Karnataka,” Madhusudhan said.
That said, Anna Bhagya scheme was good but some of the families in the rural areas felt that the quantity of food grains supplied was low. Also, experts said the scheme was introduced four years ago and that the state government failed to implement the scheme in a proper manner.
Political analyst M B Marmkal said it was difficult to predict a second term for the ruling Congress party on the basis of the Anna Bhagya alone.
“Bengalureans are not bothered about schemes like these. They are concerned about good roads, proper sanitation and garbage disposal,” he said. For the urban voter who is generally above the poverty line, the Anna Bhagya scheme may not be of much benefit and hence their voting preference need not be based on this scheme.
The urban crowd’s requirement is different from the rural. Nearly 1/10th of the assembly constituencies are in Bengaluru which has 28 assembly constituencies.
The government was also quick to act on the criticism against the scheme. Earlier this year, a study by the Jayadeva Institute of Cardiology had revealed that the rice distributed under the scheme lacked nutrients and could be responsible for both anaemia and diabetes among those who bought it. Responding to this, the government immediately said, it would be issuing nutritional pulses under the scheme.
“To set things right, the government has now decided to distribute toor dal under the public distribution system. For every unit, one kg of toor dal will be given,” Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister T.B. Jaychandra had said in May. This was likely to cost the state exchequer an additional Rs 1,050 crore every year and the State was seeking help from the Centre to compensate for the same.