Government assistance programs are now a major source of subsistence for many Indian villagers. The level of government consumption subsidies required by villages and the government's actual capacity to deliver these subsidies are matters best seen in the case of emergency relief provided in response to droughts. This paper attempts an assessment of the government-village food distribution system as a guarantor of individual subsistence security in drought emergency situations in terms of four issues. These include the extent of institutionalized food sharing traditionally taking place within and between village households during a famine; the survival of traditional food sharing patterns into the era of modern Indian history; the responsibility devolving on agencies of government as far as taking over or supplementing the village food management system during a crisis; and the complementarity of emergency assistance and development planning.

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