BOOK REVIEW Weakening Welfare
Weakening Welfare, Madhura Swaminathan, Left Word Books, 2000, pp.152, price Rs. 275 (hb) Rs. 95 (pb).
Weakening Welfare is a critical evaluation of the food policies pursued by the government of India, and more specifically, of the public distribution system (henceforth PDS) in India since its inception to date. The primary focus is on analysing the performance of the PDS in attaining its objective of raising the welfare of the poor in post-independent India. The book stands out as a sharp critique of the food policy of the liberalised era that aims at reducing the role of the government and that of the PDS in distribution of food across the country. The theme of analyses could not have been more topical. At a time when people are actually starving to death in different parts of the country while the government holds surplus food stocks, one cannot but question the legitimacy of pursuing a policy that undermines the government's responsibility towards providing basic food security to its population. But Swaminathan raises pertinent issues that demand immediate attention not only in today's context, but also in general in the context of a less developed economy where majority of the population suffers from abject poverty and endemic under-nourishment.
The book can be broadly divided into two parts. The first part focuses on the evolution of the PDS in India, its necessity — given sheer magnitude of the incidence of poverty, and its performance over the years in fulfilling this basic necessity. The second part analyses the impact of the current policy of structural adjustment — geared towards reduction of food subsidy and targeting of population coming under the PDS. At the end, the author suggest specific proposals to reform the PDS in order to make it an effective means of providing food security.
The first section shows that while there are large differences in the coverage and functioning of the PDS across states (with the