Context:

  • Recently, the Supreme Court has asked the Centre to ensure that States implement key aspects of the Food Security Act.

Introduction:

  • Several state governments have not met key requirements in the food security legislation which empower common man in securing subsidized food.
  • Food Ministry data presented to Parliament show that the present system does not reflect the true scale of public grievances, with a mere 1,106 complaints received from the beneficiaries nationwide in 2016.

Supreme Court directions:

  • The Supreme Court directed to states to set up State Food Commission and Vigilance Committees in every state by the end of year and set up social audit machinery.
  • The court also directed the government to frame rules and designate independent officials for a grievance redressal mechanism under the Act within a year.
  • The directives in the Swarah Abhiyan case underscore the depressing reality that several State governments have not met key requirements in the legislation which empower the common people in securing subsidized food.
  • The court pointed out, Article 256, which casts a responsibility on the States and the Union to ensure compliance with laws made by Parliament, also provides the remedy, as it can be invoked by the Centre to set things right.

National Food Security Act, 2013:

  • National Food Security Act, 2013 (NFSA) is the landmark law came in the wake of fighting the hunger and malnutrition in affordable price and to live with dignity.
  • The National Food Security Act, 2013 is an act of the Parliament which aims to provide subsidized food grains to approximately two third of India’s 1.2 billion people.
  • The Act was signed into law on 12 September 2013, retroactive to 5 July 2013.

Need for food security act:

  • Around 40% of Indian children have malnutrition problem
  • 72% of infant and 52% of married women have anamei
  • To meet goal of Sustainable development goals and also core purpose of NFSA
  • Need for human resources formation
  • To fulfill spirit of social and economic justice

Key features of the National Food Security Act:

  • Under the provision of the bill, beneficiaries of the Public Distribution System are entitled to 5 kg per person per month of cereals at Rs 3, 2, and 1 for Rice, wheat and coarse grains respectively.
  • Coverage and entitlement under Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) : Upto 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population will be covered under TPDS.
  • State wise coverage: Planning Commission has determined the State-wise coverage by using the NSS Household Consumption Survey data for 2011-12.
  • Identification of Households:Within the coverage under TPDS determined for each State, the work of identification of eligible households is to be done by States/UTs.
  • Nutritional Support to women and children:Pregnant women and lactating mothers and children in the age group of 6 months to 14 years will be entitled to meals as per prescribed nutritional norms under Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and Mid-Day Meal (MDM) schemes. Higher nutritional norms have been prescribed for malnourished children upto 6 years of age.
  • Maternity Benefit:Pregnant women and lactating mothers will also be entitled to receive maternity benefit of not less than Rs. 6,000.
  • Women Empowerment:Eldest woman of the household of age 18 years or above to be the head of the household for the purpose of issuing of ration cards.
  • Grievance Redressal Mechanism:Grievance redressal mechanism at the District and State levels.
  • Transparency and Accountability:Provisions have been made for disclosure of records relating to PDS, social audits and setting up of Vigilance Committees in order to ensure transparency and accountability.
  • Food Security Allowance:Provision for food security allowance to entitled beneficiaries in case of non-supply of entitled food grains or meals.
  • Penalty:Provision for penalty on public servant or authority, to be imposed by the State Food Commission, in case of failure to comply with the relief recommended by the District Grievance Redressal Officer

Major Concerns:

1.       Distortion of agricultural patterns
  • Small farmers who go grow grains for personal consumption may shift to other crops to make more money and buy subsidised grain.
  • Assured of cheap food, small farmers that produced grain for self consumption may stop cultivating cereals and shift to other crops. This can affect food grain output.
2.       India could become massively dependent on imports
  • India’s commodity imports tend to move global prices. Should India be forced to buy grain from international market because of the food security law, it would have to pay heavy prices.
3.       One-third population may have to pay steep prices
  • The government will need to procure food grains in large quantities to meet the demands of the law. This would require sharp increase in minimum support prices to incentivise farmers. As a result there could be lower supply in open market.
4.       Food subsidy bill will rise sharply
  • The cost at which the Food Ministry will make additional grain available is an issue to be considered. A wide coverage and throwaway issue price for foodgrains under the scheme will increase food subsidy sharply.
  • It may squeeze out private traders from the grain market, giving state agencies such as the Food Corporation of India total dominance in the trade.
  • It may put a huge subsidy burden on the government, which can derail the fiscal situation.
5.       Overall inflation will rise
  • If a major rice-consuming State such as Tamil Nadu enters the open market, seeking to procure rice in huge quantities, the price of the commodity will naturally increase.
  • Higher MSP for cereals and demand for other food items because of lower household spending on cereals will push up food inflation and the overall inflation.
6.       Overall corruption and malpractices may rise
  • There may be many leakages and malpractices.
  • Irregular supply of ration is a bigger issue that getting ration at subsidised rates. The accessibility and quantity wheat or rice made available to the poor is always at the discretion of the ration shopkeeper. The government must ensure to curb hoarding of food grain.
  • Responsibility and accountability should be strictly enforced, without any leniency of any type.

Problems in implementation of Act:

  • The National food security Act, which is vital for social security through the Public Distribution System and child welfare schemes, has suffered due to a lack of political will.
  • Identification of eligible households by few states was not done in time.
  • Many states neither have adequate grain storage facilities nor a system of door-step delivery of grains to fair price shops (FPS) – both requirements that the Centre stresses are mandatory.
  • An effective grievance redress mechanism to implement the Act was also missing.
  • Besides, end-to-end computerisation of TPDS operations was also pending.
  • There is a shortage of fair price shops in India. While there are 6 lakh villages in India, there are only 5.35 lakh fair price ration shops for disbursement of food grains.
  • Duplication of beneficiaries, bogus ration cards, preparedness in allocation and erroneous registrations are some other problems that the states had to face.

Challenges:

  • Food grains under the act will be distributed through the already existing PDS. However, these PDSs have many loopholes such as leakages of food grains, corruption etc.
  • The exact number of poor is not calculated correctly. Different departments are giving different figures.
  • The huge subsidy and incurring cost will lead to fiscal deficit
  • As most of the food grains will be procured by Govt, exports will reduced, which is a big threat to the economy.
  • Small farmers may shift to other crops, as they may get the subsidized food grains. This may reduce the production of food grains.

Solution:

  • There should have full-fledged, independent machinery in the form of a Food Commission, and district-level grievance redress, besides social audits.
  • Modernisation of the PDS, with the use of information technology, could incorporate such dynamic features to the supply of subsidized food to those who need it, and eliminate deficiencies and fraud.
  • To make Food Security Act a successful mission, efforts taken should be taken towards its proper implementation, monitoring and evaluation by an independent body.

Conclusion:

Effective implementation of NFSA would make an important contribution to food security and improved nutrition in the country. But the PDS system must be strengthened to avoid corruption and leakages. Procurement price must be increased. Farmers must be protected. If this law is implemented effectively, it can help in eradicating hunger and

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Did you like what you read?

Enter your email address below to get all our updates in your inbox the moment it is published. Once you enter your email address, you will be subscribed immediately.


We do not spam you, so you can easily unsubscribe anytime, by clicking on unsubscribe link in the email.