Monday, March 15, 2010

Poorly designed subsidy schemes bleeding exchequer: Dr. JP

Welfare schemes in Andhra Pradesh are so poorly designed and badly implemented that they have been merely perpetuating poverty, ill health, and indebtedness among the so-called beneficiaries, said Lok Satta Party President Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan here today.

Talking to the media in the context of the Planning Commission’s reported indictment of Andhra Pradesh’s intolerable populist policies, Dr. JP said the criticism has not come a day too soon.

Dr. JP made it clear right at the outset that there can be no two opinions on the need for mitigating poverty and drudgery, alleviate suffering, averting starvation, promoting health and wellbeing and ‘empowering’ farmers. His only regret is that in the name of going to the rescue of the poor and downtrodden sections, the Government is mortgaging the future of the people for serving the short-term interests of the ruling party. It is tantamount to a hungry man feeding on own flesh or a farmer consuming seed meant for sowing for satiating his hunger.

Dr. JP cited the supply of rice at Rs.2 a kg and kerosene at subsidized rates, free power to farmers and the Aarogyasree scheme to underline his point that they could have been designed better to contribute to the welfare of the beneficiaries and wealth of the nation.

When Chief Minister N. T. Rama Rao launched the Rs.2-a-kg-rice supply scheme in 1983, the open market price of rice ruled around Rs.3 a kg. Today the price of rice has shot up to nearly Rs.30 a kg while the value of rupee has plummeted steeply. In other words, the Government is supplying rice at perhaps 50 paise a kg in real terms as 1983 prices, against the market price of around Rs.30. Almost 80 percent of families in the State have white cards even as lakhs of people complain they have been denied white cards. “This is nothing but a colossal failure of public policy.

Dr. JP said the State Government should identify the genuinely poor and make available food grains supplied by the Union Government through village panchayats. It could make cash payments to beneficiaries to ensure that they had access to rice at Rs.2 a kg.

Dr. JP said that criminal gangs are diverting more than 50 percent of kerosene supplied at subsidized rates for diesel adulteration. A bright engineer employed by a public sector oil company was brutally murdered when he sought to prevent diesel adulteration in Uttar Pradesh. He suggested that instead of subsiding kerosene supply solar LED lamps could be supplied at subsidized rates. Such lamps reduce dependence on fossil fuels, prevent pollution, and stimulate indigenous industry creating jobs instead of fattening criminal gangs.

Dr. JP said that unmetered free power supply to the agriculture sector has encouraged farmers to utilize scarce water for raising water-intensive crops and contributed to depletion of groundwater resources. That a farmer in Nalgonda district succeeded in striking water only after sinking 65 bore-wells spread over seven years and selling away 15 of his 24 acres underlined how free power is ruining farmers in the long term. In the short term, the farmer has to reckon with motors burning away because of low voltage power supply.

Dr. JP suggested that the Government impose a cap on free power a farmer can draw and charge regular tariff once he exceeds the ceiling. The Government could help the farmer better by opening agri clinics at the rate of one for every 3000 acres and supply technology and inputs and provide procurement, storage, and marketing support.

Aarogyasree again testifies to the State Government’s skewed priorities. It helps only 500 of the 20000 odd patients who are admitted to hospitals both in the private and public sectors in the State every day. All the others have to incur out of pocket expenditure. Aarogyasree with its focus on tertiary and super specialty care has enriched corporate hospitals even as it provided only a marginal benefit to a microscopic number of people. At one-tenth of the cost of Aarogyasree, the society stands to gain ten times more if the Government utilizes the money on preventive, primary and secondary care.

Dr. JP hoped that the State Government would mend its ways at least now and redesign subsidies better so that precious resources are properly utilized and the really deserving benefited.

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