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

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

The Centre’s proposal still has many flaws. Learning from Chhattisgarh could fix them

“65 India’s rank among 79 nations in The Global Hunger Index”

By : Himadrish Suwan

 

The demographic dividend lies at the heart of India’s future. According to the 2001 census, India will be home to 484.86 million people in the age group of 15-34 in 2030. Undoubtedly, this chunk would comprise the workforce that is expected to fuel the country’s economic growth.

Just that they need to be healthy to do any good, and India isn’t exactly topping the charts when it comes to tackling hunger and malnourishment. According to the latest Global Hunger Index of the International Food Policy Research Institute, India ranks a low 65 out of 79 countries in terms of child mortality, malnourishment and low child weight. Even countries like Sudan and Niger fare better. TheNational Food Security Bill of 2011 is aimed at setting this right. “The Food Security Bill will go beyond the normal obligations of the state to a legal obligation,” says Harsh Mander, Special Commissioner to the Supreme Court.

The Bill gives two categories of people the right to get foodgrains at subsidised prices – priority households and general households – but is silent on how a priority household would be identified. Priority households will be entitled to seven kg foodgrain per person and general households, not less than three kg. In fact, priority households would get coarse grains for one rupee, wheat for Rs 2 and rice for Rs 3 per kg.

In its latest form, the National Food Security Bill, 2013 promises to address the extreme irony of an ambitious nation holding mountains of food in storage, 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. Yet, the empirical truth is that incremental measures at targeting the needy are a poor substitute for a cohesive, rights-based universal system of food entitlements. There are, no doubt, many positives to the new legislation, such as coverage of up to 75 per cent of eligible priority households in rural areas, the importance given to women as the head of the household for issue of ration cards, inclusion of pregnant and lactating women for free meals (some in government wanted to take away this entitlement from women who bear more than two children but the idea was sensibly dropped), and setting up of State Food Commissions to investigate violations of entitlements. Under the proposed law, it will be up to the States to frame criteria and choose the priority households for food entitlements, an exercise that will inevitably be accompanied by the well-documented troubles associated with targeting any welfare scheme. Exclusion of any deserving household is unfair and divisive. It poses a challenge to States that wish to provide universal access, an issue that is bound to be felt acutely in urban areas attracting tens of thousands of migrant labourers.

The Centre is unwilling to countenance a Universal Public Distribution System on the ground that too much money is involved. Even under the latest Bill, it is argued, the exchequer would have to bear a heavy expenditure of Rs.1.24 lakh crore. Yet, the government has not hesitated to build up expensive food stocks over the years, some of which is left to rot, mainly to pay the high support prices demanded by influential sections of the farm lobby. Moreover, the policy orientation is disproportionately favourable towards some sectors such as infrastructure, compared to food and health care. Evidently, the Food Bill can and should do a lot more, to become near-universal and win over sceptics such as Tamil Nadu, which has opposed it on the ground that it is inferior to the universal PDS in the State. Also noteworthy is the fact that the Chhattisgarh Food Security Act has done better than the Centre’s proposed law in some respects — by supplying subsidised pulses and covering 90 per cent of households, for example. The cause of equity would be better served if the Centre expands the ambit of its law to cover all classes of vulnerable people, including senior citizens and the disabled, for supply of essentials under the PDS. It must then embark on the road to universality in providing access to food as an entitlement.

A year after the Centre tabled a National Food Security Bill, on December 21, the Chhattisgarh Government enacted the Chhattisgarh Food Security Act (CFSA) which, in some ways, is better than the Centre’s Bill.

The CFSA covers the public distribution system, school meals, anganwadis (including take-home rations for pregnant/lactating women and children under three) and free meals for the destitute and homeless. It excludes 10 per cent of households from the PDS.

The CFSA comes at a time when the Centre appears on the verge of reneging on its promise of a National Food Security Act in favour of cash transfers. The benefits of computerisation (enhanced administrative capacity, better accounting) and banking (protection from corruption) are being marketed as the “magic” of aadhar. An impression is being created, perhaps unintentionally, that aadhar will create eligibility for welfare benefits.

The Chhattisgarh legislative assembly passed the Food Security Bill, much of which is reportedly along the lines of the central draft legislation, on 22 December. The Bill is aimed at providing food and nutritional security to around 5 million families in the state and will cost more than Rs.2,311 crore.

The Chhattisgarh legislation has not only guaranteed food at subsidized rates across various categories of households such as Antyodaya (vulnerable social groups), priority and general, but has also made subsidized food a right. Failure to deliver this right has been made an offence. An overhaul of the entire public distribution system (PDS) by computerizing it and thereby making it transparent is also on the cards, along with using the unique identity, or Aadhaar number, for proper “targeting of beneficiaries”.

While the food security Bill passed by the Chhattisgarh government may not add anything new to the already “robust” PDS in the state, it is a “much better” Bill than the national draft Bill, agreed NAC member.

“Chhattisgarh has a very good PDS programme and it has nothing to do with the Bill, which has just been passed. It is more like a political ploy to embarrass the government of India,” he said. “They are a revenue surplus state and have almost achieved universal PDS, so this Bill hardly makes a difference, apart from facilitating the existing programme.”

 

 

The new Chhattisgarh Food Security Act 2012 pledges to ensure universal coverage of the state population enabling around 42 lakh families to access quality subsidised food grains.

 

 

 

Chattisgarh Food Security VS Central Food Security Bill Who Aims towards a better Security !!

 

The National Food Security Bill (NFSB) a flagship programme of UPA president Smt. Sonia Gandhi was originally introduced in Parliament in December 2011. The bill was cleared by a parliamentary committee in January. Lok Sabha on 8th May 2013 failed to pass because of opposite party not supporting the much-hyped National Food Security Bill which seeks to ensure access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices to people. Food security means the easy availability and access of food at all times in sufficient quantity in a safe and nutritious form to meet the dietary requirements and food preferences for an active, healthy and productive life. The government may soon pass the National Food Security Bill to give millions more people cheap food, fulfilling an election promise of the ruling Congress party that could cost about $23 billion a year and take a third of annual grain production.

The Bill seeks “to provide for food and nutritional security in human life cycle approach, by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices to people to live a life with dignity and for matters connected therewith and incidental thereto”.

CONSIDER THE two best-known facts about India’s food economy. On the one hand, 42 percent of our little children are malnourished. On the other, our godowns are bursting with foodgrain. Can we join the dots by drawing a straight line from the warehouse to the homes of the hungry?

That’s only the most obvious of our food system’s glaring contradictions. subsidies on food and agriculture have shot up and bumper crops have been harvested, but instead of bringing down food prices, it seems to have had the opposite effect. Farmers are being paid more than double what they were 10 years ago for their foodgrain and retail prices of food have gone up — but they are still committing suicide.

We congratulate ourselves on record foodgrain exports at a time when per capita food availability at ho-me is declining — and we lose money on every tonne that we export. Exporters make profits, but the exchequer loses.

Into this crazy picture, the UPA government proposes to introduce the National Food security Bill. No one knows what impact it will have — economic, political, social — but it appears set to become law nonetheless. Will it fix the problem or cripple the economy?

The success of the MGNREGs, which was passed in the teeth of considerable opposition, is held up as an example of a positive social legislation that worked. so why should the Food security Bill not prove an even bigger game-changer?

It is not a perfect Bill and has been variously criticised for low food entitlements, inadequate attention to nutrition, too much discretion to state governments in identifying beneficiaries, a poor grievance redressal mechanism and providing scope for substituting the Public Distribution system (PDs) with cash transfers.

However, there’s no argument against a framework law on the right to food security. When asked whether India could afford to have a statutory right to food, Food minister KV Thomas answered, “Can we afford not to?”

Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar voiced his doubts in the Union Cabinet. If a small farmer could get foodgrain for as little as Rs.1 per kg, as proposed in the Food Security Bill, why should he bother to grow his own? And what would happen in a bad crop year, or successive bad years?

Policymakers clearly have little idea how much implementing the Right to Food will cost. In the current year, Finance minister P Chidambaram has allocated only Rs 90,000 crore towards the food subsidy, of which Rs. 10,000 crore is the additional amount for implementing the Food security Bill. The food ministry estimates that the subsidy bill in the current year is likely to cross Rs 1.3 lakh crore.

And even this is inadequate, according to a paper by the Commission on Agricultural Costs and Prices, which puts the cost at Rs 2.41 lakh crore in the first year of implementation. Over three years, it says, the outlay will be Rs 6.82 lakh crore, including the Rs 1.1 lakh crore required for upscaling food production.

Whatever the figure, the fact is that every year, the minimum support price (MSP) will go up and impact the food subsidy bill. since 2003-04, MSPs of wheat and rice have more than doubled, from Rs 640 to Rs 1,350 per quintal in the case of wheat, and from Rs 550 to Rs 1,250 for paddy. But the food subsidy bill has gone up more three times in the same period, from Rs 25,181 crore to Rs 85,000 crore. This is because handling and storage costs have gone up as well.

On the one hand, there appears to be a glut. On the other, per capita availability of foodgrain stands at 462.9 gm in 2011 — less than 170 kg per person per year. This makes our food security situation look quite precarious, especially given the fact that the average food availability for 2006-10 was 404.62 gm per capita. Declining per capita availability of foodgrain has been a major concern in India, says the Economic survey for 2012-13.

PROS:

  • Right to food to become a legal right- The proposed bill aims to provide legal right over subsidised foodgrain to 67 per cent of the population.
  • The bill provide uniform allocation of 5 kg foodgrain (per person) at fixed rate of Rs. 3 (rice), Rs. 2 (wheat) and Rs. 1 (coarse grains) per kg to 75 per cent of the rural population and 50 per cent of the poor in urban India – about 800 million people.
  • Continuance of Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) – Protection to 2.43 crore poorest of poor families under the Antodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) to supply of 35 kg foodgrains per month per family would continue.
  • Nutritional support to pregnant women without limitation are among other changes proposed in the bill. The bill will extend subsidized food to pregnant women and children under the age of It is positive that it is including those who really need nutritious food The Bill proposes meal entitlements to specific groups. These include: 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.
  • For children in the age group of 6 months to 6 years, the Bill guarantees an age-appropriate meal, free of charge, through the local anganwadi. For children aged 6-14 years, one free mid-day meal shall be provided every day (except on school holidays) in all schools run by local bodies, government and government aided schools, up to Class VIII. For children below six months, “exclusive breastfeeding shall be promoted”.
  • Endevours to empower woman- The eldest woman in the household shall be entitled to secure food from the PDS for the entire household.    
  • Bill seeks to utilize already existing infrastructures like PDS and aganwadi’s. This has prevented further wastage of money to develop the infrastructures.

 

CONS:

  • Credibility of PDS system- The government intends to use the Public Distribution System for delivering subsidies to the poor.  The PDS is already used to deliver food subsidies to the poor but around 51% of the food delivered that way is currently lost to leakages. It is sold on the open market for a higher price.
  • The government is also considering using direct cash transfers. In cases where the government is not able to make food available in the PDS then they will give cash payments to be used for food directly into people’s bank accounts. I think here bill is deviating from its purpose. Bill is to provide access to food not money in lieu of food.
  • The cost of food grains is rising globally then how would government be able to provide subsidized food to 70% Indian population?
  • What are we going to do in a drought or a flood? The production of rice and wheat might come down dramatically. If we are entering the global market then the global price would shoot up along with the subsidy bill. If this situation prevails and climate change takes, place what is going to happen?
  • Effect on farmers and producers- 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. Hence the person who are not poor at present but will become poor in days to come.
  • How to be implemented? Things are not very clear how it will be initiated. Every district will have a grievance officer who will deal with complaints about implementation at the local level. We don’t know how that will function but they have the authority to punish people who are not giving out the food. Still the commission under this bill is yet to be set.
  • Failure to define the beneficiaries are some of the shortcomings of the bill. Also, the scheme does not define the beneficiaries properly. The bill says that States will provide the list of the poor but they have no such records. So, whether it will reach the right persons is hypothetical.
  • Division among three groups – priority, general and excluded – and adopting a complex, impractical and politically contentious ‘inclusive’ criteria that too to be provided at later stage.
  • Not enough resources- Moreover, to implement this scheme, the total estimated annual food grains requirements will be 61.23 million tones and is likely to cost Rs.1,24,724 crore. Given the rising costs of the scheme and rising population, its sustainability is under question. This is a mega program and will require a huge food subsidy.  The cost of it will go up from 0.8% of Gross Domestic Product to around 1.1% of GDP. This is a serious increase in a situation where the government does not have enough resources as it is.
  • Based on schemes which are itself in trial stages- It will be linked to the Aadhar scheme which provides every citizen with a unique identification number that’s linked to a database that includes the biometrics of all card-holders. Aadhar scheme and direct cash transfer both are in their trial stages. So burdening an still developing programme will lead to total failure.
  • Implementing this bill could widen the already swollen budget deficit next year, increasing the risk to its coveted investment-grade status. The government has already budgeted 900 billion rupees 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 1.3 trillion rupees in 2014/15, adding to a total subsidy burden that already eats up about 2.4 percent of gross domestic product.
  • Critics say the food bill is little more than an attempt to help Congress, reeling from corruption scandals, win re-election in a vote expected by next May.
  • Critics argue that eradication of malnutrition needs more than just removal of hunger. Food security is necessary but not sufficient for nutrition security.

 

 

The Chhattisgarh Food Security Act extends coverage to 90 percent of the population. significantly, apart from grains, beneficiaries are entitled to 2 kg of pulses at Rs 5- Rs 10 per kg. The Chhattisgarh model would argue that the Food Security Act can work without sinking the economy. But then, the state first fixed its leaky PDS and gave its farmers incentives before enacting the law.

So, tackling silent hunger may well be about the governance gap, not the fiscal deficit.

The primary objective of the bill is to guarantee cheap food grain to nearly 70% of India’s 1.2 billion people. The broader aim is to alleviate chronic hunger and poverty in India.

India accounts for a third of the world’s poor, the World Bank saidearlier this year.Almost half of the country’s children under five are classed as chronically malnourished, and more than a third of Indians aged 15 to 49 are undernourished, according to India’s National Family Health Survey in 2006, the latest data available.

The bill, if passed, would provide subsidized food grain to 75% of India’s estimated 833 million rural population and 50% of an estimated 377 million urban population.

The bill has been criticized by opponents of the ruling Congress party and some food security analysts. Many see it as an attempt by the Congress party to woo poor and middle-class voters ahead of federal polls in 2014.

But the real value of this historic bill will be judged by its results. How many and how quickly can it help elevate the poor from a state of perpetual food insecurity to food security is what will determine its effectiveness. Also, due to lack of any better alternative at the moment the Food Security Law seems the best bet we have to reduce the massive levels of poverty in India.

“I am Indian, Food my Right”

 

 

 

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