Food Security For Whom?
Although criticised by the Opposition at first, the government was able to get passed the Food Security Bill in the Lok Sabha. Eyeing the coming elections, the Congress pushed for the Bill, but has failed to explain who the real beneficiaries will be and how it will provide for such a vast magnitude of food grains
In spite of being one of the biggest producers of food grains in the world, India still has a sizeable population that suffers from acute and prolonged malnutrition as they cannot afford two square meals a day. The Congress led government has brought the Food Security Bill in a futile attempt to provide food security to 75 per cent of rural and 50 per cent of the urban population. The focus of the Food Security Bill was on the nutritional needs of children, pregnant and lactating women. President Pranab Mukherjee signed the ordinance on the 6th July 2013 and the Lok Sabha passed the Bill on August 26, 2013, so as to start the ambitious project to provide the nation’s two-third population the right to get sustainable food at highly subsidised and affordable rates.
Food and Consumer Affairs Minister, K V Thomas has said that after ratification of the Bill in Parliament and it being enacted as a law, two-third of the population would become legally entitled to receive subsidised food-grains. Each entitled person will receive 5kg of rice, wheat or coarse grain at Rs 3 per, Rs 2 and Re 1 a kg respectively every month. However, the families covered under the Antyodaya Anna Yojna scheme under Public Distribution System would get entitlement to 35 kg of food grains. A detailed examination of the Bill makes it clear that total implementation of this scheme will require 61.23 million tonnes of food grains every year and will cost the exchequer Rs 1.4 lakh crore.
Salient Features of the Food Security Bill Ordinance 2013
The main features of the ordinance are:
- Up to 75 per cent of the rural population and up to 50 per cent of the urban population will have uniform entitlement of five kg food grains per month, at highly subsidised prices of Rs.3, Rs.2, and Re.1 per kg for rice, wheat and coarse grains, respectively.
- The poorest of poor households would continue to receive 35 kg food grains per household per month under the Antyodaya Anna Yojna at subsidised prices of Rs.3, Rs.2 and Re.1.
- State-wise coverage will be determined by the central government.
- The work of identification of eligible households has been left to the respective States/Union Territories, which may frame their own criteria or use Social Economic and Caste Census data, if they so desire.
- There is a special focus on nutritional support to women and children. Pregnant women and lactating mothers, besides being entitled to nutritious meals as per the prescribed norms, will also receive maternity benefit of at least Rs. 6,000 for six months. Children in the age group of six months to 14 years will be entitled to take home ration or hot cooked food, as per prescribed nutritional norms.
- The central government will provide funds to States/UTs in case of short supply of food grains from central pool.
- In case of non-supply of food grains or meals to entitled persons, the concerned State/UT governments will be required to provide such food security allowance to the beneficiaries as
may be prescribed by the central government.
- The central government will provide assistance to the states towards cost of intra-state transportation, handling of food grain and fair price shop (FPS) dealers’ margin, for which norms will be developed.
- The ordinance also contains provisions for reforms in the Public Distribution System (PDS) through doorstep delivery of food grain, application of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) including end-to-end computerisation, leveraging ‘Aadhaar’ for unique identification of beneficiaries, diversification of commodities under the Targeted PDS (TPDS) for effective implementation of the ordinance.
- The eldest woman in the household, of 18 years of age or above, will be the head of the household for the issue of the ration card. If the eldest woman is not available, the eldest male member is to be the head of the household.
- There will be state and district level redressal mechanism with designated officers. The states will be allowed to use the existing machinery for District Grievance Redressal Officer (DGRO), State Food Commission, if they so desire, to save expenditure on establishment of new redressal set-up. Redressal mechanism may also include call centres, helpline etc.
- Provisions have also been made for disclosure of records relating to PDS, social audits and setting up of Vigilance Committees in order to ensure transparency and accountability.
- The Bill also provides for penalty to be imposed on public servants or authorities, if found guilty of failing to comply with the relief recommended by the District Grievance Redressal Officer (DGRO).
It is quite natural that a scheme of such magnitude and its impact on the political field of India, will garner some opposition for itself. Opposition parties have started opposing the nature of the scheme and the way government is trying to get it passed by parliament. The main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party is accusing the government of pushing the scheme hurriedly with an eye on the forthcoming elections in five states.
The rollout of the scheme, in the states, is the most difficult part. The job of identifying the beneficiaries is given to the states, which is contentious in nature as this Bill does not clarify the exclusion criteria. The cost sharing between the Centre and State has to be worked out. Public distribution system needs to be reformed. Storage capacity for food grains needs to be augmented.
Despite a move to push amendments supported by the BJP, the Left and other regional parties, the Food Security Bill is expected to be passed by Parliament in the on-going Monsoon session of Parliament. The Biju Janata Dal and other regional parties are expected to move amendments that will seek changes in the beneficiary criterion from individual to family units as well as a hike in quantity of cheap food grains to be provided. The opposition amendments will also seek bringing down the rate of cheap food grains at just Rs 1 and Rs 2 a kg instead of Rs 3 for certain commodities.
Not Food Security But Vote Security
In the “Statement of Objection and Reasons” section of the Food Security Bill, there is a mention of Article 47 of the Indian Constitution and also of Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights. It is also mentioned in the section that “eradicating extreme poverty is one of the goals under the Millennium Development goals of the United Nation. Keeping all these in mind, the government says that it will raise the standard of the nutrition level and also give it a dignified meaning. The government also talks of providing “adequate food”. What we all are unable to understand is what is the criteria of this notion of “adequate food”? Is it purchasing power or calorie intake or nutrition? What does the government mean by the word “adequate fund”? There is a mention of food grain but “adequate food” is not defined in the Bill. According to India Council of Medical Research and international standards, every adult person requires 14 kg of food per month, along with pulses, cooking medium, fat and all the nutritional needs. What government is providing is 5 kg per person, which means 166 gm of food grain per day, that too devoid of pulses, ghee etcetera. There is no guarantee of nutrition in the scheme. If we follow international standards, then we have to provide 14 kg of food to every adult person, but if we take governments own report, then also this Bill is at fault.
Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India, has conducted a survey in 2009, through NSSO. The report of this survey is very important in regard to this Bill. This report shows that “Trends in cereal consumption across expenditure groups in kilogram per month- the monthly per capita cereal consumption per kg in population percentile class from poorest to richest in rural India”. So according to this report, the intake of lowest class in rural India, in 0-5 per cent category, is 9.88 kg, which means the poorest person’s consumption is almost 10 kg. Further in the report, the consumption for category 5-10 per cent and 20-30 per cent is 11 and 12 kg respectively and government is providing 5 kg of food grains for an adult person. So it is amusing to see that the government has neglected its own report and keeps saying that it has provided “adequate food” for all.
The government says that it will provide food security for 50 per cent of population in urban areas and 75 per cent in rural areas. In urban areas, where agriculture has not flourished, what will happen to other 50 per cent population? Food is a necessity for everyone. So, universal food security should be the focus of the country. If the government can’t provide it, that we can understand, but then it should not create such brouhaha about providing food security to the whole population. The Chhattisgarh government has provided food security to 90 per cent population of the state. It has reformed the Public Distribution System (PDS), distribution and procurement of food grains in the state. Even Planning Commission had recommended that it was the best model for implementing this scheme. The government should have implemented it. A small state, affected by Naxalism, covering 90 per cent of the population, is not an easy task. Food grains are needed by everyone, so the scheme should provide for 100 per cent population.
Once Jawaharlal Nehru had said: “Everything can wait, but agriculture can’t.” But this government is not even taking a note of it. This Bill was declared by the government in 2009, tabled in 2011. For all these years, these problems were there, but what the government has done about it, we are not able to understand it. If we see the other sections of this Bill, we will find that the government has changed the criteria to ‘household’ from ‘individual’. Why not individuals? Bill says ‘every person belonging to the priority household’, so what will happen to single persons? Can the government define these household criteria? Do these criteria include a single person in a household? In the second schedule of the Bill, governments talks of ‘nutritional standards. This schedule says that children from 06 month to 03 years will take home rations of 500 calories. When the government talks of nutritional standards, it does not specify, from where it will give the nutrition? The Government says that nutrition will come from the ‘fortified food’, ‘ready- to- cook food’, but fails to explain where this ‘fortified food’ will come from. Since the day this Bill has been tabled, many advertisements of multinational companies are being seen, claiming to provide ‘fortified food’. So does the government plan to give ‘fortified food’ through these multinational companies?
Now the government talks of giving ration to children of 06 months to 03 years, but it is left unexplained what kind of ration will the government provide to them? Will it provide the ration in the form of raw wheat, rice or coarse grain? Again, in the category, 3-6 years, the government says that children in this group will be provided morning snacks and hot cooked meal, containing protein up to 12-15 gram. What we fail to understand, is, how will the poor people of rural India get this ‘morning snacks’ and protein content? Will it also be provided by the multinational companies? Further in the same section, it is given that children in the age group of 06 months – 06 years, who are malnourished will be given take- home ration, which includes 800 calories with 20-25 gram protein content. When the government has not made any provision for providing pulses in the scheme, how it will provide protein and nutrition to the children, we fail to understand.
The government is providing for upper primary class hot -cooked meal of 700 kilo calorie with protein content of 20 gram and in the lower primary class it is hot- cooked meal of 450 kilo calorie with protein content of 12 gram. So does the government want to say that necessities of lower primary class have reduced? Government should tell us what is the composition of the scheme and what are the standards, applied for the scheme? The government is saying that this scheme will cover 75 per cent of the population, but, from where will this vast amount of food grains come? The government is not able to provide for the mid- day meals, then how will it provide for this Bill?
All these things which the government has mentioned in the Bill, is an attempt to make it look attractive. Prabodh Panda (M.P. CPI) is right in saying that this Bill is an utopia and will mislead people of the country. What is the mechanism of the government through which they will provide food grains? Will it be available on ration shops, as the government has not stopped the PDS? In the Bill there is a mention of doorstep delivery of food grain. So will there be any nodal agency in the Public Distribution System, which will deliver the food grains door to door? This is not a security changer Bill but a game changer Bill. If it had not been a game changer Bill, the government would have cleared the Bill in 2011 only and could have held discussions all over the country. That is the reason, why we consider this Bill not Food Security, but Vote Security Bill.
By Murli Manohar Joshi
Fuss over Eligibility Criteria
The guidelines issued by the government by which people will be included in the scheme also make a clear demarcation of who will be excluded. The question that rankles is: Will it be able to identify the real benefiters of this scheme? According to the government, this scheme will cover around 880 million people, so it is imperative to have the criteria on which people will be identified for the scheme. The opposition claims that this “eligibility criteria” will not be able to identify the real benefactors of this scheme. Recently three Congress ruled states have implemented the Food Security Ordinance and issued their eligibility criteria for identifying the benefactors of this scheme. Full detail of the eligibility criteria of these three states:–Delhi, Rajasthan, and Haryana— is given in the table below:
Eligibility Criteria of Delhi, Rajasthan and Haryana
A public notice will be given that it is proposed to make these persons eligible as AAY or priority households as the case may be for receiving food grains under the provisions of National Food Security Ordinance 2013 as they meet the eligibility criteria enumerated in Para-6 and do not fall in any of the exclusion category mentioned in Para-8 of these guidelines.
These are the guidelines issued by the respective governments for the implementation of the Food Security Ordinance. According to the government, people covered in different schemes will automatically come into the fold of the ordinance; however there is no clue that how these eligibility criteria will cater to such a vast population earmarked for this scheme. All the talks of eligibility criteria are just a way to deviate from the real issue. The real issue is of identifying the people for the Food Security Scheme. Scant regard has been given to the methodology of identifying people who will be benefited from this scheme. The government says that it will provide food security to more than 65 per cent people of India but what will be the method to identify and bring people into the fold of this scheme, is left unexplained. Every state government says that they will send teams into the field for surveys and data collection. They will base their database on reports of these surveys, but government collected data has scope for manipulation, which will be detrimental for this scheme. This data may prove faulty in the judicial process. The Courts may question the methodology applied for the collection of data and the validity thereof.
The government’s response to the fuss over the eligibility criteria is the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) data. They say that respective state governments can base their data on the Census data and provide the benefit of the scheme to the people. In the last Census, people were identified on different scales and given a time period of 80-90 days for objections to be made, if any. After the objections are clarified the final data is to be prepared. The last Census commenced in 2011 and has not reached in its final stage. Only the state of Haryana has completed 99 per cent of data. Haryana has based its data on the SECC data and is pioneering the Food Security Scheme of the Central government.
It is interesting to note that although the opposition parties are criticising the bill, they are not against it. The question remains, why? The opposition should have attacked the government and put up a strong front to ensure a strong Bill. At a time when the economy is reeling under pressure and poverty is touching new lows, the detrimental impact this would have cannot be overlooked. Instead of raising these pertinent issues, the opposition parties are tacitly supporting the government. Though it may seem as a welcome move on the part of opposition, the reasons behind this support raise many questions.
The opposition taking a firm stand against the Bill would mean that the government’s Bill is fool proof, this will boost the prospects of the Congress led UPA, something that is not going to benefit the opposition. Hence by supporting and demanding for amendments in the Bill at the same time, the opposition is playing its card very carefully. By criticising the Bill outside and supporting it in Parliament, the opposition is treading on the middle path.
This gives the opposition a chance to further make the Bill stronger and better if they come to power after the next election. Opposition of the Bill will be termed as anti-poor. Around 880 million people who are going to be benefit from this Bill and are potential vote banks of opposition parties, are eagerly waiting for this Ordinance to be passed. The Congress, which has already termed the opposition as ‘anti-poor’, is trying to make the most of this situation. The opposition parties have realised that these potential voters have no concern about the economic consequences of the scheme, and they are in no mood to let the government solely reap the fruits of this scheme.
It is a fact that political parties make policies on the basis of electoral compulsions. Any party, be it in government or in the opposition, will never attempt to derail a scheme which has an impact on such a large scale population. It is clear that the Congress led UPA has brought this Bill to change their sinking fortunes in the upcoming 2014 general elections. The opposition, not wanting to be seen on the wrong side, is supporting the Bill out of sheer compulsion. The moot question is whether this scheme will in real sense improve the condition of the ‘poor’ people of India. How the Bill gets passed in the Parliament and not gets scuttled in between the Congress and the Opposition will be
the matter of contention for the next few weeks.
By Nilabh Krishna