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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  1. FOOD SECURITY part 2: Nutrition, local food production, food safety and public distribution
    Though agriculture is a state subject centre gets involved in collection & distribution of food grain, sugar & kerosene through PDS. Studies of national sample survey indicate that PDS are not benefiting poor. Leakage, losses and diversion to free market are alleged. (Venugopal, 1992).
    Studies show that despite concession in freight by railways, incidental of FCI is heavy. Only 13-22 paise out of every rupee spent, reaches the poor. Restructuring of PDS in 1990’s did no good. (Parikh, Kirit.S.: India Development report, 1997; Oxford Univ. Press). Selection and handling of Target Beneficiary (TB) involves public funds for establishing offices of profit for some and posts of power for public men.
    Expenditure can be reduced if food can be distributed across board to all Adhaar/ NPR holders. If a computer net work can link PDS shops (through LAN/ WAN) to a main office, distribution of nutrients can easily be monitored (like medical/ other shops checking stock and daily sale). RTI, citizen’s charter or right to service can work if the masses are aware of their rights and show the courage and patience to check on the officialdom (govt. employees and people in power).
    ? 2% people (govt employees) control the fate of the rest 98% of India. [Salaried employees in India are around 2.82 crores. Of this large and small industries employ 78 lakh people. So, 2% govt. employees are controlling the living condition of private sector employees who live in slums and shanties around SEZ’s, of the tribals, the nomands, the pastorials or that of agri.labour]
    ? As crimes tend to get increasingly politicized these days, commissions and monitoring committees for food distribution could get misused politically.
    ? Not considering the feed and nutritional security of animal resources and the disproportionately high cost of animal feed force the major stake holders of animal husbandry (ie. small holders and landless) to use subsidized grains to feed animals.
    ? Animal husbandry is an essential component of organic farming and bio-diversity. There is urgency for R&D on animal resource development (ARD) where inflation is least especially the socio-economics, feed technology, HRD and the service needs of animal husbandry.

    Support STAPLE FOOD. Staple food is that food that is eaten regularly in such quantities as to constitute dominant part of diet. Staple foods (from crops & animals) are well adapted to the growth conditions of their source areas and sustain biodiversity. By encouraging local food production and staple food production states can save on transport, storage space, damage/ spillage and reduce the use of preservatives and pesticides to a great extend.
    Subsidy at input stage for agriculture is mostly availed by hi-tech farmers and large land holders who generally sell food grains in open market for a premium. If subsidy can be included in the support price and given to farmers who sell food grains to govt. agencies, benefits would reach the deserving, reduce misuse of subsidy and enhance quantum of procurement. Subsidies at input stage can be replaced by liberal Short term loans to the deserving local producers of staple food, lentils, animal products and energy foods like tubers, cassava, banana etc. Loans can be recovered at the time of procurement.
    ? India holds half of the landless people of developing world and most of the marginal holders of the world. NSS 1991-92 indicates that small holders hold only 15.6% of the agri. land in the country with larger land holders owning nearly 84 % of operational area of agricultural land. Size of land per person is steadily decreasing. A number of small holders are forced to leave crop production and animal husbandry and sell their land to real estate investors due to the unfavorable factor productivity. Dr. Swaminathan (2006) had rightly suggested shifting focus of food production from farming to farmers.
    ? As agricultural labour demand is limited to 90-100 days /year, animal resources remains the sole source of earning to the poorest of the poor viz. marginal farmers and landless.

    Agriculture being a state subject state govt.s can encourage local people to produce feed & fodder, (scarcity & normal) staple foods that are well adapted to the growth conditions of the locality. Animal husbandry, mixed farming and production of staple food essentially on a low input – low out put regimen by small holders provide nutrients, sustainability, cost effectiveness, low risk, low residues and pesticides. The state can also save on transport, storage, spillage/damage. This is the crux of bio-diversity

    ? The focus of food security plan has to be through regional strategies for high productive zone, low productivity-high potential zone, low productivity zone and ecologically fragile zone. The priority has to be on nutrition than hunger, fitness than fatness, quality than quantity.

    Chosen variety of animal products, coarse grains, food grains, lentils and other food products as is required to ensure nutritional security can be identified along with required fuels (energy to cook) They can be distributed through, Kudumbasree, milk co-operatives (or any Grameen bank model shown by 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus). The products can be identified, their prices strictly scheduled and regulated through out the country. The PDS materials would not leak into open market or used for adulteration or sale on profit if they can be identified and branded. In fact once this system of nutritional security is established, the PDS can be gradually dismantled. At that stage producers’ co-operatives can be organized to sell brands of subsidized staple food.

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