Combating the menace of food insecurity: the experience of West Bengal

The Indian government is implementing a package of food-based safety-net programmes to resist disastrous food insecurity. Crucial programmes are (1) the Targeted Public Distribution Scheme, (2) the wage-employment programme (direct cash transfer as wages), and (3) a number of direct nutrition programmes for feeding children. This article explores the implementation of these programmes at district levels in the state of West Bengal, and in particular the extremely disadvantaged district of Purulia. West Bengal was selected for study because it has a decentralised governance structure and the distinctive mark of uninterrupted governance by the Left Parties under the leadership of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) since 1977. Data presented, supported by related field evidence, show a mixed record of combating hunger in West Bengal relative to other states. In a number of respects, but not all, progress has been made over time. Overall, the democratic structure of the panchayats in West Bengal enables the free flow of information, which helps the government to avert mishap.