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Food Security Bill

Introduction National Food Security Bill (referred to as NFSB in this report) is a proposed act which makes food availability a right for every citizen of India. The bill has come about after discussion amongst large number of stakeholders including right to food campaigners, National Advisory Council (NAC) and Government of India. There is a widespread agreement about the intension of the food security and a visibly clear gap about how to implement it. In the following report, we will first analyse what the government’s bill is – followed by the changes that are necessary in our opinion and why this necessity arises.

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Towards the end of the report, we will see how Brazil implemented the food security for its citizens. As per assignment, section A of this report is required section B of the assignment and vice-versa. Section C of the report and the assignment is same. Section A: A Critique of National Food Security Bill NFSB that came out of deliberations of Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) is a watered down version of the food security bill proposed by National Advisory Council (NAC). Even before we analyse the food security bill, it is indeed necessary to take a look at some starling numbers.

The below poverty line population of India is still very high (37% as estimated by Tendulkar committee and 77% as estimated by Sengupta committee). Every 1 in 3 malnourished children lives in India. The child mortality rate because of hunger and huger-related diseases is very high (6000 deaths on an average day). 76% of the people in India do not get the daily required amount of calories, according to Professor Utsa Patnaik. Contrast this situation against the record 220 billion Kg (160 Billion contributed by rice and wheat) of food production in the last year. It is nearly 15kg per person per month.

Even with leakages and the provisions for future emergencies, it is still possible to provide EVERYONE with 7kg per person per month. This is the primary rationale behind universal public distribution system. We will review the provisions of NFSB in the same sequence as they are arranged in NFSB by EGoM. Chapter I: Preliminary Definitions This chapter of the food security bill defines all the terminology used in the bill. Even though, some of the definitions are based on previous laws, some terms are not defined clearly. Two examples are mentioned below. * ‘Cooked meal’ means nutritious cooked and ready to eat meal. ’Destitute person’ means who lacks resources for dignified living. Chapter II: Provisions for food security This chapter defines the various provisions for priority households, general households, children below the age of 14 and the pregnant and lactating mothers. However, the amount and price for households is not mentioned in this chapter. It is instead part of the schedule. Another interesting fact remains that most of the responsibilities have been delegated to states from the centre. The bill is silent on issues such as what constitutes a nutritional meal, the nutritional requirements of the beneficiary groups.

Chapter III: Entitlements of Special Groups This chapter defines that a cooked meal per day be provided to destitute, homeless and the migrant workers. Again the bill is silent on how these persons will be indentified. One of the major plus points of this section is however disaster relief given by supply of food grains up to 3 months for emergency disaster affected persons. Chapter IV: Persons living in starvation This section talks about identification of the starved persons and provision of 2 free cooked meals for 6 months from the date of identification.

Again, the responsibility to identify the starved persons is given to state governments without any specific mention about criteria for identification. The nutrition value / items to be served / the relevant infrastructure set up – all of these factors are not clearly mentioned. Chapter V: Food Security Allowance This single paragraph is the most controversial part of the food security bill. Food security allowance (hard cash) is to be provided by Government in case of failure to provide food grains. This is a possible way for corruption with money really not reaching the targeted persons.

Further, there have been objections that the provision will lead to dissolution of public distribution system. It must be mentioned that the similar provision was implemented successfully in Brazil. Chapter VI: Identification of Priority and General Households The amount and the rate at which the food grains are to be provided are different based on segmentation into priority or general households. The NFSB provides for 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population. The priority households are to be identified based on state level poverty ratios and guidelines from the centre government.

The planning commission has accepted Tendulkar committee report as the basis of defining BPL limit. NFSB will probably use this definition. The main cause of concern with this chapter is the discretion of central government to keep certain household’s out of the food security bill. This condition, if made mandatory on implementation, will lead to serious repercussions. The people identified by central and state government vary highly in numbers. This kind of dictation from central is undesirable in our opinion, especially when state governments can provide food security to additional households.

Chapter VII: Women Empowerment Under the bill, the ration cards will have a woman as head of households for the purpose of distribution of ration. This is a good proposition for women empowerment and social reforms. Chapter VIII: Grievance Redressal Mechanisms Under the bill, national food commission, state food commission and district grievance office will be set up. The bill goes into great details about selection of members of these commissions. However, the role of the commissions is more advisory in nature and no powers to effect proper implementation are bestowed upon these bodies.

Annual reports are to be submitted by these bodies about implementation of the bill. Chapter IX, X, XI: Obligations of the Central, State and Local Governments The Central Government should take charge of the adequate budgetary provisions and timely allocation of resources once the Food bill act has been passed so as to ensure that all the authorities and institutions established under this act can function at full force. The State Government should take direct responsibility for providing, to all eligible persons, the entitlements under this Act and should take care of clean implementation.

The local bodies must hold the responsibility of identifying the people who are in real need and must make sure that the freshly cooked meals reach everyone of them. But instead, the Central Government delegates work to the State Government while retaining all the powers and the State Government in turn delegates work to the local bodies. Because of this deliberate allocation of responsibility on others, the public may not get what they deserve. Chapter XII: Transparency and Accountability The bill includes a provision to establish a vigilance committee and both the central and state levels.

It is responsible to maintain and monitor the implementation of the act. Access to this information should be accessible to all persons. All the targeted fair price shops would be places in public domain. Social audits would be conducted regularly. The issues would be escalated to District Grievances Redressal cell. Chapter XIII: Provisions for advancing food security The provisions include investments, R&D, improving irrigation, provision for prohibiting unwarranted diversion of land. Decentralization of procurement and making the storage operations scientific is also considered.

It also concentrates on computerization, transparency, use of UID for identification purposes and supporting local models. Other aspects include providing potable water, health care and nutritional care, pension schemes and increasing railway rakes for priority movement in the long run. This chapter is forward looking in its content. However, some of the provisions of this chapter can be done right away. The provisions for food procurement at minimum support prices, storage facilities and use of UID for biometric ration cards can be immediately taken up.

The right to potable water has to be made a part of food security right away. Chapter XIV: Miscellaneous This section details the powers and scope of the central and state governments to make rules, and remove difficulties related to implementation of the act. These powers enable Government to take quick measures to setup smooth running of Food Security, and handle any obstacles during implementation from there on. Government cleverly escapes from the responsibility of providing food security during natural calamities and emergency by stating that it is not liable for claims by people to force majeure conditions.

A penalty not exceeding Rs. 5000 is charged to public servants found guilty of failing to comply with the reliefs as per the law. This is clearly not sufficient. While the intention of the bill is correct, the implementation mechanism recommended by government has loopholes, which needs to be addressed. Milton Friedman once said that “One of the great mistakes is to judge any program by its intention rather than the results”. Success of NFSB will also depend on successful implementation through strong political will, corruption free implementation and societal pressure.

The next section details about the changes that could be made to the bill that would ensure food security to the poorest of the poor in our country. Section B: The Required Changes 1. Changes to Food Security As per our study we understand that, Food Security should include: * food procurement at minimum support price from the farmers * storage at local warehouses with minimal transportation losses * distribution of the procured food grain at subsidized price to everyone Food security should not just mean supply of grains but should also specify the nutrition value of the supplied food/ meal. As per the Government’s draft, the food security is limited to rice/wheat/cereals. But it should include oil as well which are important nutrients. * The amount of the grains distributed should be part of the bill and not as part of the schedule. Government should not change this without the permission of the Parliament. * The contents of the cooked meal for the homeless, the destitute, the starving people and also the ones below the poverty line should be clearly specified in terms of the nutrient value. The criteria for defining who the homeless, the destitute, the people who are starving or below the poverty line and the identification mechanisms must be clearly mentioned in the Food Security Bill. These changes are necessary in Chapter 1, 2, 3 and 4. 2. PDS Improvements * The public distribution system must be strengthened through the effective use of technology. * The Food Security Bill as on date is far from meeting the basic requirements for a universalized system of public distribution. It actually deprives people of existing rights on several counts, in spite of the opportunity created through huge buffer stocks. For equal and timely distribution of the food grains, an inventory /supply chain management should be adopted to maintain records of food being distributed at every node. * Biometric identification to ascertain the delivery of the grains should be done through issuance of biometric ration cards (with the women as the head of the family). * Vigilance committees for the current PDS remain on paper. A strong initiative needs to be taken so that vigilance committees keep a tab on PDS in their area.

Phone numbers and contact details for the vigilance committee should be made available online and publicized once in 3 months in local newspapers. * The present Food Security Bill mentions about social audit conducted by local Panchayati bodies PIR/ULB. The parameters, the frequency and the periodic reporting mechanism should be included as part of the bill. These changes should be made to the bill through a separate chapter on PDS strengthening the current PDS bill. 3. Cash Transfer * The present Food Security bill also allows cash transfer instead of food.

This will in turn increase corruption as the wages allocated might not reach the respective people. * A proper compensation needs to be included to address the implementation of the issues in the bill. Monetary compensation should be kept as a backup option when government fails to deliver free food due to unavoidable circumstances (force majeure). These changes should be made to chapter 5 of the NFSB. 4. Malnutrition of children In the current government draft of food security bill, there is no special provisions for children suffering from malnutrition. The number of malnourished children in India is very high.

As per the latest UNICEF report, approximately 47% of children under the age of five are underweight. For the food security bill to prevent and protect children from malnutrition and starvation, special provisions are necessary. * First, Government should provide access to appropriate therapeutic foods free of charge. * Secondly, special care should be provided at a Nutrition Rehabilitation Centre or in the community in which the children reside. These changes should be made to chapter 2. 5. Penalties The government draft fails to address the issue of dereliction of duties and penalties.

There is no mechanism to ensure punishment for the offenses of public servants in implementing the bill. Further, there is no strong grievance and redressal mechanism for addressing issues with implementation. The punitive powers of district grievance redressal officer, state food commission and national food commission need to be enhanced beyond just enquiry and recommendation. A proper grievance redressal mechanism and strict punishments for public servants for disciplinary issues is mandatory for the bill to be successful. These changes should be made to chapter 8 and 13. Section C: Food security – the Brazil way!

In 1999, nearly a third of Brazil suffered from hunger. At the same time, Brazil was fourth largest food exporter in the world. Over next two years, 2 million more people joined the forced fast-unto-death. That is when Brazil government rose up to the occasion. The main issue in Brazil was not with the availability of food but rather with affordability. Past food security policies, based on self-sufficiency strategy, failed to address the food insecurity status. In 2003, the Brazilian government made necessary structural reforms to shift strategy from self-sufficiency to self-reliance.

This has proved to be a successful measure as the number of people getting the benefits as of 2006 stands at 55 million. a. How is Brazil tackling food insecurity? The government has been able to address the issue through a food security program known as Fome Zero [Zero Hunger]. To avoid confusion or misuse of words, the Zero Hunger Program uses the concept of food and nutritional security. To assure food and nutritional security for the population of a country means providing all citizens with access to dignified food, with sufficient regularity, quality and quantity.

The government diagnosis was that hunger in Brazil was caused by the insufficient incomes that hamper access to food of close to one-third of the population. The strategy has been: * to promote sustainable agro-ecological systems for food production and distribution that respect biodiversity * to strengthen family agriculture * to ensure consumption and access to adequate and healthy food. Fome Zero has three main policy pillars: 1. Bolsa Familia : It is the world’s largest conditional cash transfer scheme. It provides direct income, under certain conditions, to 12. million families (nearly 50 million people) facing poverty and deprivation. A range of existing initiatives and social programmes have been interlinked with this scheme to provide a right based approach for access to financial benefits i. e. access based on basic rights such as health, education, and food in order to support poverty reduction more effectively. Bolsa Familia has the largest budget within Zero Hunger, equivalent to over $8 billion USD in 2010. 2. Alimentacao Escolar : The National School Feeding Program (school meal) programme provides 47 million free school meals every day. . Fortalecimento da Agricultura Familiar: The National Program for Strengthening Family Farming (PRONAF) is intended to strengthen and stimulate small-scale and family-based agriculture in order to increase the quality and quantity of the food supply, and to support increased incomes for rural households. This programme provides subsidized credit, training and technical assistance, and insurance for small-scale and family farmers. The main aim of the program is to provide stability in food prices and build a sustainable model.

Besides the above strategies, the government has also taken up other initiatives like incentives for urban farming and provision of fertilizers. Even the local bodies like the municipalities have contributed actively through popular restaurants that provide food at minimal price, food banks and modernization of supply chain. Some innovative ideas have also been implemented like providing entrepreneurs with land plots in impoverished areas with the condition that they have to offer 20 items of their produce at 20 cents. This has proved to be a win-win for both parties.

The main reason for the success has been a high level of commitment shown by the government – food security was made a national priority – and unity shown by the various interest groups. Economic growth of Brazil has fuelled the progress further and external sources like World Bank has also aided the government. b. Impact of Fome Zero * Brazilians moving out of extreme poverty since 2003: 20 million * Brazilians benefiting from the Bolsa Familia cash transfer programme: 50 million * Free school meals provided daily: 47 million * 60% drop in infant mortality 75% decrease in children hospitality due to malnutrition * The percentage of children under five years old whose weight is below that expected for their age has decreased from 4. 2 in 1996 to 1. 8 in 2006 * According to the Brazilian Food Insecurity Scale (EBIA), the number of households facing some degree of food insecurity declined from 34. 9 per cent to 30. 2 per cent between 2004 and 2009 c. Future Brazil has already made a study and developed a plan to address the key challenges for the future of hunger eradication and food security in Brazil.

These include the further embedding of the right to food within international, national, and federal policy frameworks; ensuring better inclusion of marginalized groups. The South American country has already met the targets of the first UN Millennium Development Goals with respect to food security and has defined more ambitious goals of reducing extreme poverty by a quarter and eradicating hunger by 2015. It has set an example for other countries to follow for achieving food security. Conclusion In our opinion, the intention of the NFSB is right.

The necessity of food security bill is beyond question. Food security bill can prove successful in achieving the dream of India that our forefathers saw and wrote down in constitution. In fact, right to food is related to all the fundamental rights enshrined in constitution. There are major differences over implementation of this bill and its coverage. At current level of production, universal PDS is not impossible. Food security as a concept needs to be debated about and a consensus is necessary from all the stakeholders.

Further, government should act responsibly to implement this bill. The watered down version of NAC bill by EGoM is alarming because the bill in its current form tries to escape responsibility on part of central government. At the same time, the bill is revolutionary in terms of women empowerment. The bill can become a blanket scheme encompassing all the current schemes removing multiplicity in achieving food security. Even though coverage (75% rural and 50% urban) will not improve through NFSB, it covers 700-800 million people which is unprecedented.

The bill can become a major success like RTI if implemented properly and the dream of food security for all is not entirely unrealizable. Our dream is to see an India where every person wakes up with a handful of dough and a heart full of hope. We will end this report with a quote from Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar – “How long shall we continue to lead this life of contradiction? How long shall we continue to deny social inequality in our life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril.

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