Expand the food safety net without any more delay

Source: The post is based on the article “Expand the food safety net without any more delay” published in The Hindu on 10th December 2022.

Syllabus: GS2- Poverty and hunger

Relevance: Issues related to food security

News: The article explains the exclusionary challenges associated with NFSA, 2013.

The National Food Security Act, 2013, through the PDS, provides a crucial safety net for roughly 800 million people. Even critics of the PDS appreciated its services during the COVID-19 lockdown.

What are the exclusion-related challenges created by NFSA?

The exclusion problem could be due to the freeze in coverage in absolute terms (around 800 million).

Section 3(2) of the NFSA 2013 states that the entitlements of eligible households shall extend up to 75% of the rural population and up to 50% of the urban population.

Section 9 of NFSA required that the total number of persons to be covered shall be calculated on the basis of the population estimates as per the census of which the relevant figures have been published.

Between the last Census in 2011 and today, population increase has not been accounted for in determining the number of ration cards. Even a decadal update has not happened due to the indefinite postponement of the 2021 census.

What is the stand of SC on exclusion?

The Supreme Court of India has also agreed that the prayer to increase coverage seems to be genuine and justified. It directed the Union of India to come out with a formula, so that the benefits under NFSA are not restricted as per the census of 2011.

What is the position of the central government on the SC stand?

The central government filed a delayed response. It states that Section 9 of the NFSA requires that coverage be determined on the basis of the latest census published. In the wake of the unavailability of the latest Census data, any change or revision in the number of beneficiaries would necessitate an amendment in the Act.

The government response states one of the prime concerns while fixing the ceiling at the time of enactment of the NFSA. It was that “as the standard of living of people would improve over a period of time, the coverage may be reduced”.

The central government attempts repeatedly to shift the blame to State governments.

Are state governments responsible for the exclusion of people?

States are responsible for identifying people for PDS ration cards, once they are given the numbers to be covered by the central government.

Several State governments have used their own resources. This includes poor States such as Chhattisgarh and Odisha to expand coverage beyond the centrally determined quotas.

According to estimates, in 2020, there were 809 million NFSA PDS beneficiaries supported by the central government. An additional 90 million people had access to the same benefits from the PDS as NFSA beneficiaries through their State governments. States were subsidising another 51 million people. But their entitlements were less than those of NFSA beneficiaries.

What needs to be done by the SC?

The Supreme Court should direct the Government for additional coverage of roughly 100 million across States, so that the States can start identifying new ration card beneficiaries.

Poor people should not pay the price for the state’s failure in conducting the 2021 Census

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