Governance · Healthcare

Is The Food Bill Enough to Feed India’s Hungry?

Abstract

Supporting the poor to get access to adequate food is a matter of humanity, justice and global solidarity. Access to adequate food is a human right which is recognized in several institutions under international law. The human right to adequate food is of crucial importance for the enjoyment  of  all  other  basic  rights.  Food  security  means  access  of  food  to  one  and  all. Availability of food is the necessary condition for food security. Keeping this in mind National food security bill has been tabled in the Parliament. The bill not only deals with the Security of food for all but it also talks about nutritional support for the one who need nutritious food.

Introduction

There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.

According to a report on Global Hunger Index by International Food Policy and Research Institute, USA  India ranks 65 among the 79 countries in the GHI report of year 20123. In a country which is fighting with Hunger, National Food Security bill seems to be a step in right direction. With the aim to provide food and nutritional security in human life cycle, by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable  prices to people to live a life with dignity, National Food Security Bill was introduced in the parliament in December 2011 but the bill for reference was send to the Parliamentary committee. The Bill finally got cleared by parliamentary committee in January 2013 and again came to Lok Sabha for discussion on 22nd April, 2013 but it failed to pass due to opposition parties who were not ready to have discussion on this much hyped bill.

The Bill classify household into Priority and Antyodaya household. Household coming under priority households will be governed by the provision of this bill and will be entitled to get 5 kg of  Food  grains  per  person  per  month  whereas  households  which  comes  under  Antyodaya households will be entitled to get  35kg  of Food grains per household per month as per the Antyodaya Anna Yojana is a Government of India scheme launched on 25th December 2000. The food grains will be distributed through Public distribution system (PDS) at a rate of Rs 3, 2, 1 for rice, wheat and millet respectively. The total coverage under National Food security Bill will be of 75% of rural population and 50% of urban population with the total subsidy costing $23 billion a year.

For children of age group 6 months to 6 years the bill guarantees an appropriate meal through local Aganwadi Kendra. And for age group of 6 to 14 years or children studying till class 8 bill provided them with mid-day meal, for this purpose every school and aganwadi Kendra shall have facilities for cooking food. The bill promotes breast feeding for children below 6 months.

For bill entitled every pregnant and lactating women to free at local aganwadi Kendra during pregnancy and six  month after the birth of child as well as a maternity relief of Rs 6000 in installment. The bill also empowers women by considering the eldest women as head of family in case of issuing ration card. After the recommendation of Parliamentary committee Nutritionals support for the pregnant women and children up to the age of 16 was added to the bill. After this adding every pregnant women, Children between the age of 6 month to 14 years, malnourished children, disaster affected persons, and destitute, homeless and starving persons is entitled to get subsidies food.

Moving further the bill talks about creation of State food commission which will consist of a chairman and five other members who will look into proper implementation of this act and will give advice to state government, its agencies and will inquire into matter pertaining to violation of this right. State food commission will be having  sue motu power in cases pertaining to violation of the right given by this bill. Every district will be having District grievance redressal officer which will be appointed by State government to look to hear complain and take necessary action as per the norms.

The State Food Commissions have powers to impose penalties. If an order of the DGRO is not complied with, the concerned authority or officer can be fined up to Rs. 5,000. In case of “non- supply of the entitled quantities of food grains or meals to entitled persons”, such persons will be entitled to a food security allowance from the state  government, as prescribed by the central government.

Chapter VII of the Bill talks about PDS reforms. The Central and state government shall endeavor to  progressive reforms in the present PDS system. Some of the reforms shall be doorstep delivery of food grains; ICT applications and end-to-end computerization; leveraging “aadhaar” (UID) for unique identification of entitled beneficiaries; full transparency of records; preference to public institutions or bodies in licensing of fair price shops; management of fair price shops by women or their collectives; diversification of commodities distributed under the PDS; full transparency of records; and introducing schemes such as cash transfer, food coupons or other schemes to the targeted beneficiaries in lieu of their food grain entitlements.

The main obligation on Central government will be to provide the Food grain at the price mentioned in schedule 1 of the bill and to implement the main entitlements. Whereas the main obligation on state government will be to meet the local distribution cost and implementation of relevant schemes as per the guideline provided by the central government. Local authority and Panchayati raj will be responsible for the implementation of the act in their respective areas.

Pros

  1. Right to Food becomes a legal right – With coming up of this bill the right to food becomes a legal right and people will have legal right over the subsidies food. Earlier this right was recognized under Article 47 of the Indian Constitution which states that it’s the duty of the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health, but since Article 47 comes under Directive Principle of State Policy this right is not enforceable.
  1. 2. Continuance of Antyodaya Anna Yojana – Even after the implementation of this bill people who were getting  subsidies  food  under  Antyodaya  Anna  Yojana  will  be  getting  the  same bene  This  bill  has  tried  to  classify  households  into  Priority  household  and  Antyodaya household, though household which will come  under Antyodaya household will be entitled of getting 35 Kg of food grains per month per household at subsidies rates.
  1. Nutritional Support – This bill provides Nutritional support to those who are really in need of nutritious food. After the implementation of this bill pregnant women and lactating mothers, children between the ages of six months and 14 years, malnourished children, disaster affected persons, and destitute, homeless and starving persons will be entitled of getting Nutritious food.
  1. Age-appropriate meal – The bill entitled children from age group of 6 month to 6 year free of charge meal through local Aganwadi Kendra and for age group of 6 to 14 years free mid-day meal through school. For the children below the age of 6 month the bill promotes breast feeding.
  1. Endeavor to empower women – For the purpose of ration card the bill makes the eldest women of the family as the head of family and entitled her to take food through the local PDS.
  1. PDS reforms –  The  bill  lays  framework  for  the  reforms  of  the  present  forlorn  public distribution system.
  1. Grievances redressal – The grievances redressal mechanism as in the bill works at two level at district level District grievances redressal officers and at state level State Food commission. If someone is not satisfied by the order passed by the District Grievance redressal officer then that person can appeal to State food commission against the order passed by the district grievances redressal officers.

Cons

  1. Will widen the budget deficit- Under the NFSB food subsidy is going to increase from present Rs 80,000 Crore (2012-2013) to Rs 1,11,211 Crore6  . The government has already budgeted Rs 900 billion rupees ($16.6 billion) for the scheme in the current fiscal year ending March 2014. If the bill is passed, it will need to  come up with as much as Rs 1.3 trillion in 2014/15, adding  to  a  total  subsidy burden  that  already eats  up  about  2.4  percent  of gross domestic  product.  With country’s current GDP around 5, it can’t afford more burdens due to food subsidies.
  1. Credibility of current PDS –Government is intends to use the current PDS system which is used to distribute subsidies food in country at present. But there are many types of fallout in the current PDS system. As per the planning commission studies released in 2008 only 42% of the total subsidies food grains issued by the central pool reaches the target group. In these 42% the food grain which the targeted groups get are of inferior quality. Dealers usually replace the good quality of food grains which they get from FCI with inferior quality and sell the good one to the black market. Government had tried to bring many reforms to the PDS system but the result is still the same. How the current reforms of PDS proposed in the National Food Security Bill will work out is still suspense.
  1. Beneficiaries not defined – The bill does not defines the beneficiaries properly, it just say that the state government will identify the beneficiaries under this bill, but what basis shall the state government shall take in identify the beneficiaries is still not defined.
  1. Effect on Farmers- After coming up of this bill government will become the major player in agriculture sector which will lead to nationalization of agriculture sector with government as the biggest buyer, holder and seller of the food grains. The very low prices of the subsidized food will distort the market and farmers who can’t sell to the government-assured program will lose out on the open market because prices will be forced down. The government has sought to balance the Budget deficit by cutting back on the fertiliser subsidy. In 2009, a nutrient-based subsidy regime was introduced, whereby the price of non-urea fertilisers was decontrolled. The  retail prices of fertilizers (except urea) increased, with the popular di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) going up almost 30 percent over 2011 and muriate of potash (MOP) by 40 percent. Already burdened by a 100 percent increase in labour costs due to the MGNREGs, the hike in fertiliser prices has inflated input costs to the point  of making farming unsustainable, so that farmers are forced to lobby for an increase in Minimum Support Price. It also drives farmers into debt, the leading cause of farmers’ suicides. Thus government should think of some other strategy to balance the budget deficit due to this bill.
  1. No Time Frame for Implementation The language of the law is that different dates may be appointed for different states and different provisions for the implementation of the Act. This clearly means that there is no time frame for full implementation or objective criteria for phased implementation. It means the government in power has the choice to decide which state and what provisions need to be implemented.

Suggestions & Conclusion

The National Food Security Bill, 2013 promises to address the irony of an ambitious nation which have huge amount of food grains in stock, while masses of its people are undernourished or even starving. The right to food  is finally on the threshold of being legislated. Every step taken to widen the coverage of food security schemes  is  an advance. It is the most ambitious social welfare programme of the United Progressive Alliance government.  The government is most likely to roll out this flagship initiative through ordinance route. The bill tries out to solve the hunger issue but still there are few more things which the government should take into consideration. Government should take Chhattisgarh Food Security Act 2012 which is already successfully  implemented in the state of Chhattisgarh as a benchmark and then bring some changes in the bill accordingly. Under the CFSA, about 90% of the population of Chhattisgarh will have PDS entitlements, mostly under the Priority and Antyodaya categories, entitled to 35 kgs of food grains per month at a token price aside from 2 kg of pulses or chana at Rs 5/kg and free iodized salt. The Act also guarantees free nutritious meals or take-home rations in aganwadi, schools and other institutions for children below the age of six years, school children, pregnant and lactating women, destitute persons and other vulnerable groups. This act have divided the targeted household  into  three groups namely Antyodaya, Priority and the general households which amount to 90 % population of the state.

This act takes also provide subsidy on pulses which for many of the poorest are their only source of protein and highly nutritious. The price of pulses has gone up, making them out of reach for many. Many provisions are also there in this act to control leakage of food grains through PDS. The Services under the Act are notified under the Chhattisgarh Lok Sewa Guarantee Act, 2011, and are subject to timely delivery and fines for erring officials. Transparency and accountability provisions, such as formation of vigilance committees, social audits, and all documents to be in the public domain, are included in this act.

After the delivery is made to PDS branch, all the beneficiaries get a message though mobiles about  the  same,  so  they  know  about  it  and  reach  to  PDS  branch  on  time.  Before  the implementation of CFSA the state government first fixed the leaky PDS system and then it also gave  its  farmer  incentives  due  to  these  two   steps  CFSA  is  running  successful,  Central government should also take a point of these two steps before the implementation of the National food Security bill.

Government  should  promote  Community  based  agricultural  programs  and  teaching  about sustainable  farming in order to enhance production in the country, which in return will bring down the price of essential  commodities which are not covered under the bill. Government should also rethink on excluding 25% of rural  population and 50% of urban population as Rangarajan Committee have not recommended any such thing regarding exclusion of population from the bill.

Considering the magnitude of food insecurity and hunger in the country the provision in the bills appears to be inadequate. The bill also fails in its intention to provide food of nutrition value to all by not giving subsidy on protein rich pulses. From where the government will get additional recourse to subsidies the Food security bill is not yet clear. Fear in the minds of farmers of being exploited is also a drawback which the government should think upon before the implementation of this bill.

Past experience shows that less than half the food in PDS reaches the intended beneficiaries. Hence, this bill  might produce another scam when half of the 50 million tonnes of grain are diverted to the black market, a scandal that any government cannot afford. This bill will tempt people to lie about their financial status and weaken public morality even further. For example, 83 per cent of Karnataka’s people call themselves poor based on BPL cards when less than a quarter of the state is, in fact, poor. West Bengal discovered last year that 40 per cent of its BPL cards were fake. Government should take necessary steps regarding this and should see that the subsidies food reaches to the people who actually deserve it.

By: Shashwat Pandey

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