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Food Security Bill and its Relevance for Mains

Now that President Pranab Mukherjee has signed the Ordinance on National Food Security Bill, it’s worth while to discuss this important legislation since it is of high relevance for IAS Mains. If you look at the syllabus of General Studies II paper, it deals with legislative aspects of Indian polity and welfare schemes for vulnerable sections. The NFS Bill deals with just this so you may get a question concerning the Food Security Bill.

Highlights of the National Food Security Ordinance

  • 67% of the population will be entitled to 5 kg of food grains at highly subsidised prices
  • 5 kg each of Rice at Rs 3/kg, Wheat at Rs 2/kg and Coarse Cereals at Rs 1/kg would be provided to the eligible individuals
  • Beneficiaries of the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) will continue to get 35 kg of foodgrains per household per month
  • The Bill will cost Rs 125,000 Crores annually and require 62 million tonnes of foodgrains to feed the target beneficiaries
  • The list of beneficiaries would be prepared by the State governments
  • Other major highlights of the the Food Security Ordinance are Rs 6,000 as maternity benefit and home ration or hot cooked food for children in the age group of 6 months to 14 years.
  • The eldest woman will be Head of the household for issue of ration card. If not available, the eldest male member will then be the head of the household for these purposes.

Pros and Cons of the Food Security Bill

While the objective is laudable since, according to a 2010 World Bank Report, 32.7% or 400 million people in India survive on less than $1.25 per day. Also, the report states that 47% of children in India suffer from malnutrition and India is home to the World’s highest population of underweight children in the World, even more than Sub-Saharan Africa. In this scenario it makes sense than to introduce a law that guarantees certain amount of food grain at highly discounted prices that the needy can afford.

But the issue that arises relates to faulty implementation by the government machinery that is tasked with implementing this Ordinance. The PDS system has massive leakages where recycling of foodgrains from state agency depots is rampant. In stead of reaching the poor, foodgrains either do not reach the fair price shops at all or are sold by the shop owners to private traders for hefty profits.

Another issue is of foodgrain production. At the current rate of population growth, to meet the demand would be very difficult. This could also result in fiscal imbalance where MSP of Rice and Wheat is increased every year but selling price is very low resulting in increased food subsidy burden for the government. Also since the target population has increased it will in turn necessitate increased administrative machinery in terms of manpower, warehouses, logistics etc which will add to the economic cost of foodgrains.

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.

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