A thought exercise on what near universal food security has meant for Chhattisgarh…

The proposed National Food Security Bill could change rural India even more profoundly than the National Rural Employment Guarentee Act has.

The Bill is expected to push India’s grain procurement up from the current 45 million tons to 80 million tons. It will also, depending on the approach the National Advisory Council recommends, provide 35 kg of grain at Rs 3 per kg to 14.4 crore households or 17.7 crore households. The remaining households will get 25 kg of grain at a price between Rs 5 to Rs 7.50 per kg.

These are large interventions. And so, how will they affect rural India? The greater emphasis on paddy procurement might make it a more attractive crop for farmers. Or, figuring they can always get their quota of grain for household consumption from the PDS, farmers might switch to other crops. Then, the promise of food security should diminish the fear of hunger that sits at the heart of the poor’s livelihood strategies.

In the second half of August, ET carried out a little thought exercise. Chhattisgarh has been running a near-universal food security programme for four years now. It buys almost all the paddy its farmers sell, and uses that to provide 35 kilos of grain (Rs 1 for Antyodaya families, Rs 2 for BPL families) to 36 lakh of its total 44 lakh households. And the village-level fallouts of this scheme, called the Mukhya Mantri Khadya Suraksha Yojana, have been intriguing.

The scheme, ET found during a field trip, has accelerated several ongoing trends — a move amongst farmers towards commercial farming of paddy, a change in relations between farmers and labourers in favour of the latter, a reduction in starvation deaths. On a larger scale, the government’s procurement drive has marginalised mandis. Then, the scheme is a glutton, consuming most of the government’s time and welfare budgets.

Read the complete story here.

The big question is whether similar changes could play out across the country once the Food Security BIll becomes legal reality. NAC member NC Saxena says, “A huge state subsidy keeps the Chhattisgarh programme running. It is not clear if states like UP and Bihar can afford it.” He also questions whether other states can use, as Chhattisgarh has, panchayats to run PDS stores, or if they have the political and administrative will.

Apart from that, one reason why Chhattisgarh is seeing these changes because it touches its villages through both paddy procurement and the subsidised rice scheme. It’s not clear whether the Food Security Bill will result in India broadening the number of states where from she procures her paddy and wheat. Today, just five states (Punjab, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh) together account for 80% of the total procurement. And there are many states, including big states like Gujarat, Karnataka and Maharashtra, where procurement operations are nearly zero.

And yet, I wonder if these changes will indeed play out, albeit to varying degrees, across the country. One set of changes where we get PDS plus procurement. Another set of changes where only PDS component of the programme is implemented.

Either way, so far, much of the debate about the Food Security Bill has centred around the quantum of grains to be provided. And on whether the programme should be targeted or universal. These other issues, of village-level impact, etc, also need to be considered.

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I am an Indian journalist with interests in energy, environment, climate and India’s ongoing slide into right-wing authoritarianism. My book, Despite the State, an examination of pervasive state failure and democratic decay in India, was published by Westland Publications, India, in January 2021. My work has won the Bala Kailasam Memorial Award; the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award; and five Shriram Awards for Excellence in Financial Journalism. Write to me at despitethestate@protonmail.com.


…une plongée dans les failles béantes de la démocratie indienne, un compte rendu implacable du dysfonctionnement des Etats fédérés, minés par la corruption, le clientélisme, le culte de la personnalité des élus et le capitalisme de connivence. (…a dive into the gaping holes in Indian democracy, a relentless account of the dysfunction of the federated states, undermined by corruption, clientelism, the cult of the personality of elected officials and crony capitalism).” Le Monde

…a critical enquiry into why representative government in India is flagging.Biblio

…strives for an understanding of the factors that enable governments and political parties to function in a way that is seemingly hostile to the interests of the very public they have been elected to serve, a gross anomaly in an electoral democracy.” Scroll.in

M. Rajshekhar’s deeply researched book… holds a mirror to Indian democracy, and finds several cracks.The Hindu

…excels at connecting the local to the national.Open

…refreshingly new writing on the play between India’s dysfunctional democracy and its development challenges…Seminar

A patient mapping and thorough analysis of the Indian system’s horrific flaws…” Business Standard (Image here)

33 മാസം, 6 സംസ്ഥാനങ്ങൾ, 120 റിപ്പോർട്ടുകൾ: ജനാധിപത്യം തേടി മഹത്തായ ഇന്ത്യൻ യാത്ര… (33 months, 6 states, 120 reports: Great Indian journey in search of democracy…)” Malayala Manorama

Hindustan ki maujooda siyasi wa maaashi soorat e hal.” QindeelOnline

What emerges is the image of a state that is extractive, dominant, casteist and clientelist.Tribune

…reporting at its best. The picture that emerges is of a democracy that has been hijacked by vested interests, interested only in power and pelf.Moneycontrol.com

Book lists

Ten best non-fiction books of the year“, The Hindu.

Twenty-One Notable Books From 2021“, The Wire.

What has South Asia been reading: 2021 edition“, Himal Southasian


Journalism is a social enterprise…,” Booksfirst.in.

Democratic decay at state level: Journalist M Rajshekhar on book ‘Despite the State’,” The News Minute.

Covid-19 en Inde : “des décès de masse” dont un “État obscurantiste est responsable,” Asialyst.


JP to BJP: The Unanswered Questions“.
Mahtab Alam’s review of “JP to BJP: Bihar After Lalu and Nitish”.

Urban History of Atmospheric Modernity in Colonial India“. Mohammad Sajjad’s review of “Dust and Smoke: Air Pollution and Colonial Urbanism, India, c1860-c1940”.

Westland closure: Titles that are selling fast and a few personal recommendations,” by Chetana Divya Vasudev, Moneycontrol. (Because this happened too. In February, a year after DtS was released, Amazon decided to shutter Westland, which published the book. The announcement saw folks rushing to buy copies of Westland books before stocks run out.)

Time to change tack on counterinsurgency” by TK Arun, The Federal.

All Things Policy: The Challenges of Governing States” by Suman Joshi and Sarthak Pradhan, Takshashila Institute (podcast).

The Future of Entertainment“, Kaveree Bamzai in Open.

On What India’s Watching“, Prathyush Parasuraman on Substack.

The puppeteers around us“, Karthik Venkatesh in Deccan Herald.

Will TN election manifestos continue ‘populist’ welfare schemes?“, Anna Isaac for The News Minute.

Why wages-for-housework won’t help women“, V Geetha in Indian Express.

The poor state of the Indian state“, Arun Maira in The Hindu.

Book discussions

26 December, 2021: Rangashankara, Bangalore, a discussion with Dhanya Rajendran.

16 November: Rachna Books, Gangtok, a discussion with Pema Wangchuk.

29 August: Books In The Time of Chaos, with Ujwal Kumar.

21 May: Hyderabad Lit Fest with Kaveree Bamzai and Aniruddha Bahal.

28 March: Paalam Books, Salem, Tamil Nadu.

19 March: The News Minute, “Citizens, the State, and the idea of India

6 March: Pen@Prithvi, with Suhit Kelkar

20 February: A discussion between scholars Usha Ramanathan, Tridip Suhrud, MS Sriram and me to formally launch Despite the State.

6 February: DogEars Bookshop, Margoa.

5 February: The Polis Project, Dispatches with Suchitra Vijayan.

30 January: Founding Fuel, “Systems Thinking, State Capacity and Grassroots Development“.

25 January: Miranda House Literary Society