By M S Swaminathan, September 28 2011
The National Food Security Bill 2011, which is now on the website http://fcamin.nic.in/dfpd_html/Draft_National_Food_Security_Bill.pdf / of the Union ministry of food and consumer affairs for public comments, aims to make the right to food a legal right. When finally enacted, the Food Security Bill will be the brightest jewel in the crown of Indian democracy. Therefore, public scrutiny of the draft bill is important. The draft bill mentions that its aim is “to provide for food and nutritional security in human life-cycle approach by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices, for people to live a life with dignity”. Unfortunately, the bill in its present form will not be able to fulfill this inspiring objective.
The legal commitment contained in the bill implies that every child, woman and man should have physical and economic access to a balanced diet on the basis of a life-cycle approach, that is, from conception to cremation. Nutrition security involves access not only to the required calories and protein, but also to micro-nutrients like iron, iodine, zinc, vitamin A, and vitamin B12. In addition, clean drinking water, sanitation and primary healthcare are essential for ensuring that food is properly assimilated in the body. Food and nutrition security will, thus, need concurrent attention to both food and non-food factors. Obviously, every requirement cannot become a legal right overnight. Therefore, the government has confined the legal right only to economic access with reference to certain quantities of grain, like rice, wheat, and nutri-cereals such as ragi, bajra, jowar and maize, among others. The bill provides for common and differentiated rights. The common rights are designed to ensure that every citizen in the country has access to food. The differentiated rights relate to quantity and cost of the food to be provided to the general category of citizens who are not in need of the same kind of social support as those listed under the priority category.
The bill, to achieve its purpose of nutrition security for all, coupled with respect for human dignity, will need a structure.
Legal entitlements: This will begin with pregnant mothers in order to avoid maternal and foetal malnutrition. The present, Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) could be divided into two segments from the point of view of the age of the child. The first 1,000 days starting from conception are exceedingly important for brain development in the child and for avoiding low birth weight at the time of delivery. This is the neglected part of the present ICDS and this is why, we have nearly every fourth child born in the country with a birth weight below 2.5 kg. Such low birth weight children have many handicaps in later life, including impaired cognitive abilities. The older children can be provided nutritious noon meals and also other forms of nutrition support like milk, and nutri-biscuits. As far as adults are concerned, the bill provides for the provision of 7 kg of food grains per person per month in the case of priority households. The price will not exceed Rs 3, 2 or 1 per kg for rice, wheat and nutri-cereals. The draft bill also makes provision for providing support to special groups such as destitutes and the homeless.
Enabling provisions: Food security has three dimensions, namely availability of food, which is a function of production, access to food, which is a function of purchasing power, and absorption of food in the body, which is a function of the availability of clean drinking water, sanitation and primary healthcare. Therefore, the act, to achieve the goal of food and nutrition security, should emphasise the need for effective implementation and close monitoring of the following schemes:
- Ensuring adequate availability of food by implementing the provisions of the National Policy for Farmers placed in parliament in November 2007, as well as of the schemes designed to stimulate higher production such as the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, National Food Security Mission, National Horticulture Mission and Mahila Kisan Sasakthikaran Pariyojana.
- Effective implementation of the Rajiv Gandhi National Drinking Water Mission, Total Sanitation Programme and Rural Health Mission. We have to mainstream nutrition in the horticulture mission in order to provide horticultural remedies to nutritional maladies, such as deficiency of iron, iodine or vitamin A. For example, a combination of moringa (drumstick) and ragi or bajra can provide all the needed macro and micro-nutrients.
- The delivery of these provisions must be made in a “deliver-as- one mode” in order to ensure synergy among the different components of food security.
Reform of public distribution system: Several successful models are already available, for instance, in Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Modern technology like smart cards could be used to prevent leakages in delivery. In the ultimate analysis, a corruption-free India will be an essential prerequisite for a hunger-free India.
Building the necessary infrastructure: A food security bill can be implemented only with the help of home-grown food. In other words, the well being of farmers will be essential for ensuring food security. Enhancing small farm productivity is the most effective method of ending endemic hunger in rural India. Hence, we should start building proper storage structures.
The present draft is a good beginning to seriously address issues relating to poverty-induced chronic hunger. We should, however, make a bold and imaginative attempt to rid the country of chronic hunger and malnutrition.
(The writer is an agricultural scientist who led India’s green revolution).