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Impact assessment of affirmative measures will ensure minimum gaps, maximum outcomes
The onus is on the legislature, executive, judiciary and the media to ensure implementation of all affirmative measures
Every affirmative and welfare measure aimed at the empowerment of socially, educationally and economically deprived, vulnerable and ostracised people should be welcomed. Such initiatives are designed to address historical inequalities, promote social justice and enhance the well-being of marginalized and vulnerable populations.
Through impact assessment, policymakers and other stakeholders can gauge the actual outcomes of such measures on the intended beneficiaries and identify any unintended consequences. Such a process helps in refining and tailoring policies to ensure that they achieve their objectives efficiently and timely.
Furthermore, impact assessments also contribute to transparency and accountability in governance, enabling citizens to understand how public resources are being utilized and whether the desired social and economic improvements are being realized. By systematically evaluating the impact of affirmative and welfare measures, the government can make informed decisions, adjust policies as needed, and ultimately enhance their ability to create positive and lasting changes in society. Unfortunately, we have not been able to put in place a robust impact evaluation or auditing mechanism. As a result, we are deprived of quality data on how positively affirmative or welfare schemes are impacting the lives of targeted beneficiaries.
The Union Cabinet, which met on November 28, decided that the Centre would provide free food grains to about 81.35 crore beneficiaries under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) for a period of another five years with effect from January 1, 2024. Its cost has been estimated to be around Rs. 11.80 lakh crore.
The decision certainly reflects the strong commitment of the Central government towards efficient and targeted welfare through fulfillment of basic food and nutrition requirements of the population.
Free food grains like rice, wheat and coarse grains or millets will be delivered across the country through a network of over five lakh fair price shops. The economic cost of 35 kg rice for an Antyodaya or poor family comes to Rs. 1371, while the cost of 35 kg wheat comes to Rs. 946, which is being borne by the Government of India under PMGKAY, and the foodgrains are provided completely free to the families. The monthly savings of ration card holders are significant on account of this facility but do we know the real impact on the overall wellbeing of the targeted social groups?
PMGKAY was introduced in 2020 as a pandemic relief measure under which 5 kg of free food grains per beneficiary per month was provided in addition to 5 kg of subsidised foodgrain under the National Food Security Act (NFSA). In December 2022, as PMGKAY came to an end after multiple extensions, it was subsumed under the NFSA providing ration free for one year. Under the NFSA, up to 75 per cent of the rural population and 50 per cent of the urban population are being covered under two categories – Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) and priority households.
We need to know to what extent free ration is improving the poor people’s living standards, their capacity to save money and how much money saved is being deposited in their savings accounts every month; whether there is any improvement in their standard of living and the quality of education their children are getting. We rightly assume that there must be an enabling impact upon them. It will be better if we have actionable data in this regard. Similarly, if pre and post-Matric scholarships are being given to students belonging to OBC, SC, ST and minority communities, do we know how many of them have been able to convert such affirmative help into tangible gains. We have the figures of the recipients of scholarships and the total amount disbursed among them over the years but have no report on how many of them have been able achieve something, which makes them competitive and confident in the realm of life.
We have reservation for OBCs, SCs and STs in government jobs and institutions. Is any report brought out annually that gives in detail the total number of students availing of the benefits of quota in admission in government institutions? We don’t have an exhaustive report.
A report will tell us whether the reserved category seats are being filled up across the country or not. If the policy is not complied with by any college or university, corrective measures should be initiated. The idea is to accomplish the stated objectives of affirmative policy, sooner the better. For want of a comprehensive report, we have not been able to fill up backlog vacancies of reserved categories in government jobs and institutions, despite all tall claims.
At this rate, we will perhaps never be able to justify our collective resolve to take affirmative steps to their logical conclusion and would end up causing colossal socio-economic losses to the nation, its diversity and the spirit of inclusivity.
Let us take the case of women self-help groups (SHGs) in the country. The number is quite huge. Cumulatively, they receive a huge amount of assistance from banks and financial institutions every year. They also generate a lot of job opportunities for women and semi-urban areas. Do we ever discuss on the floor of the House – whether Parliament or the State Assembly – how SHGs are empowering women with complete facts and figures?
It is, therefore, the collective responsibility of legislature, executive, judiciary and media to work in tandem with each other to ensure total implementation of affirmative measures and their impact assessment in a transparent manner. It is necessary to minimize the monstrous disparities in the distribution of national resources, opportunities, facilities, privileges and responsibilities among our people to build a vibrant and more inclusive society. India can no longer afford to see have-nots being continuously deprived of their rightful share in opportunities and resources. By depriving them their share, we would only be weakening the fabric of this great nation, which is positioning itself to emerge as the world’s third largest economy.
We will fail collectively if the 80 per cent people are away from the best of health, education facilities and job opportunities during Azadi Ka Amrit Kaal.