National Food Security Ordinance: Anything But Expensive

http://www.epw.in/web-exclusives/national-food-security-ordinance-anything-expensive.html
Vol – XLVIII No. 30, July 27, 2013 | Dipa Sinha

While critics have overblown the cost estimates of the National Food Security Ordinance, the ordinance itself is a missed opportunity. What is needed is a more comprehensive Act which incorporates measures such as procurement, storage and distribution through a decentralised, strengthened and universal public distribution system, among others and a strong grievance redressal and monitoring mechanism.

Dipa Sinha (dipasinha@gmail.com) is an activist with the Right to Food campaign.

With the promulgation of the National Food Security Ordinance (NFSO) last week, there have been many shrill voices warning the nation about the high costs of its provisions. The media, especially the TV news channels, have been continuously flashing figures on how expensive, and therefore harmful to the Indian economy the food bill will be. The most popular figures seem to be 3% of the GDP annually as estimated by the economist Surjit Bhalla (Indian Express, 6 July 2013) and Rs. 6 lakh crores over the next three years as estimated by Ashok Gulati, the Chairperson of the Commission of Agriculture Costs and Prices (CACP) (The Economic Times, 4 July 2013). It is necessary to understand how these figures have been arrived at, based on extremely dodgy assumptions. Further, there is a need to look beyond this superficial discussion and investigate how far this ordinance will go in addressing people’s hunger and malnutrition.

Surjit Bhalla uses an erroneous method to arrive at this estimate of Rs. 3 lakh crore per year. He assumes the actual consumption and outreach of PDS as reported by people in the NSS survey to be the current provision of the government and adjusts it to the proposed coverage and lower prices under the ordinance. So, he argues that according to National Sample Survey (NSS), 44% of the people get access to Public Distribution System (PDS) at an average of 2.1 kgs per head[1]. To expand this to 67% coverage and 5 kgs per head at lower issue prices as proposed by the ordinance, the food subsidy of 2011-12 (Rs. 72000 crores) has to be increased 4.3 times. The implicit assumption here is that the present level of leakages as reflected in the NSS will remain the same even after the ordinance is rolled out and further, that the government will allocate resources taking into account leakages. His calculations do not take into account the fact that the allocation of foodgrains under the Act will in fact go up only by 2 mn tonnes from 60 mn tonnes to 62 mn tonnes or that the current allocations are at three different issue prices for the Above the Poverty Line (APL), Below Poverty ine (BPL) and Antyodaya Anna Yojana(AAY) populations; or that currently the allocations are at the scale of 35kgs per household per month or even that the expenditure of many state governments on food subsidy will now go down as they will be getting grains cheaper from the central government. By using statistics to one’s own convenience without clearly mentioning the assumptions being made, such a method of estimating the food subsidy is only misleading.

Overblown Costs

By challenging readers to counter his calculations Bhalla tries to convince them that there can be nothing wrong with it. In fact the counter-question to be posed to Bhalla is how he proposes the Rs. 314,000 crores will be put to use. Food subsidy is the difference between the economic cost and issue price; which is currently around Rs. 20 per kg. To spend Rs. 314,000 crores the government will have to procure 157 mn tonnes of foodgrains, which is even more than the total marketable surplus of cereals produced in the country. Is he by any chance imagining that the NFSO will nationalise the foodgrains market? That would be too far-fetched for even someone like Bhalla!

Ashok Gulati on the other hand inflates his estimates by including “the investment in agriculture that will be needed to stabilise production, the investment that would be needed in storage and the investment that would be needed in transportation through railways”. The question to ask here would be whether these costs can all be attributed to the NFSO. “Food subsidy” only includes the cost to the exchequer on account of procuring foodgrains at minimum support prices, storing and transporting the grains and then selling them at a subsidised price to the consumers.

It is only fair that when we are comparing how much higher the food subsidy will be as a result of the NFSO, only these aspects are included in the Ordinance being taken into account. Moreover, is Gulati suggesting that the government (or he) does not think it is necessary to invest in agriculture and the only reason to do it would be to provide for the NFSO. The public investment in agriculture has stagnated since the 1990s leading to stagnation in the agrarian economy and this needs to be corrected to protect the lives and livelihoods of majority of our rural population and to ensure that we remain food sufficient and do not become import dependent like in the 1960s. This is a goal in itself whether we have a PDS or not. An expanded and reformed PDS can only contribute to revitalising agriculture by increasing decentralised procurement (which by the way will also reduce transportation costs) and including newer crops such as pulses and oilseeds.

The NFSO in fact is only a very small step towards ensuring food security. It is a myth that it is very expensive and that it will result in food shortages in the open market. The current food subsidy is around Rs. 90,000 crores. With an average subsidy of Rs. 20 per kg; the food bill will cost about Rs. 1,24,000 crores (for 62 mn tonnes). This is around 1.2% of the GDP and not 3% as projected by media reports. The other figure that is repeatedly quoted by the media is that food subsidy was only Rs. 25,000 crores 10 years back and it has been constantly increasing at a rapid rate. The reality is that as seen in the figure below from the Economic Survey of 2013 over the last 10 years the food subsidy has hovered around 1% of GDP. Interestingly, the percentage of households accessing foodgrains from the PDS has gone up from 28% in 2004-05 to 39% in 2009-10 and 44% by 2011-12 despite the expenditure remaining constant at less than 1% of GDP. This has also been accompanied by steep reduction in leakages in the PDS. In fact it is the improvement in efficiency of PDS which has been ignored by Bhalla’s calculation. But that also explains why the NFSO can still deliver subsidised foodgrains to 67% of the population without much additional costs if the PDS is made efficient.

Source: Economic Survey, 2013

This unfortunate discussion around the cost of the NFSO has only served to divert the attention away from the real issues. Similar attempts were made to derail the NREGA when it was being passed, with one estimate stating the Act will cost up to Rs. 2,08,000 crores a year. After it was passed, the expenditure on NREGA has been less than Rs. 40,000 crores a year.

So, how far does the NFSO go in addressing hunger and malnutrition? Is it indeed the “gamechanger” that it is being made out to be?

One of the positive aspects of the NFSO is that it presents the opportunity to move the PDS away from the current APL-BPL system (linked to the poverty line) which is fraught with problems of identification and ensuing exclusion of many poor to one where only the rich are identified and excluded and the rest are covered with uniform. The NFSO proposes to do this by covering 67% of the population at uniform prices of Rs. 3 for rice, Rs. 2 for wheat and Re. 1 for millets; while excluding the rest. The 67% is to be divided across the states based on their level of development. So states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan can expect to cover 80% or more of their rural population under the PDS. Such an expansion, if accompanied by some reforms, can be expected to go a long way in strengthening the PDS in these states. In fact, the NFSO can also be expected to contribute to lowering of leakages in the PDS. Recent studies based on NSS data and field surveys have shown that the extent of leakages in the PDS have been going down in many states. The PDS is functioning better in states where the BPL coverage has been expanded, where issues prices have been decreased and reforms in PDS have been initiated (Drèze and Khera, 2011; Himanshu, 2011; Khera, 2011; Sen and Himanshu, 2011) which is precisely what the NFSO aims to do.

Concerns with the NFSO

However, there are problems with the way in which the PDS entitlements have been currently defined. While the principle of excluding the rich and covering the rest is a sound one (of course, it would be even better if the PDS is universalised) the ordinance does not specify the identification criteria for exclusion. Moreover, a cut-off (75% for rural areas and 50% for urban areas) is prescribed at the national level but there is no clarity on what the percentages will be in each state. There is once again the danger of some poor being left out arbitrarily. What can be hoped is that the state governments take this opportunity to universalise coverage, at least in the poorest districts, by using state funds. The NFSO also provides only a limited quantity of 5kgs per head per month and restricts itself to cereals; where the minimum basket should have included pulses and oils. By doing so, the extremely inadequate diets of the poor could have been addressed to some extent.

The NFSO is also very limited in its entitlements for children, who ideally should have been central to a food security act. Child malnutrition levels in India are extremely high and it is well known that interventions to address malnutrition must focus on children under two years of age, pregnant and lactating women and adolescent girls. While the NFSO converts the existing schemes for mid day meal and take home rations in schools and anganwadi centres into legal entitlements, this is not accompanied by essential interventions for treatment of malnourished children, provision of calorie-dense local foods, growth monitoring, and nutrition and health education and so on. Addressing malnutrition would also require other complementary interventions such as access to basic health care, sanitation and drinking water.

The NFSO introduces a limited but extremely critical entitlement for women in the form of maternity entitlements for all pregnant women. By doing this, for the first time we recognise the right of children under six months to breastfeeding and that most women in our country are in fact ‘working’ women. However, once again the ordinance fails us by not going far enough – maternity entitlements are wage compensation for women to be able to stay home for rest and exclusive breastfeeding. They should therefore have been linked to minimum wages. But, the ordinance at least makes a beginning by including this very important entitlement.

The Congress is now in a hurry to implement the ordinance and reap electoral benefits. Such hurry without working out proper identification criteria and mechanisms can derail the entire process. On the other hand, many state governments over the last few years have moved many steps forward in improving their PDS – these states can now take advantage of the additional resources to universalise coverage and even provide other items such as pulses and oils if they are not already doing so.

In many ways the NFSO is a missed opportunity. A comprehensive Act which includes procurement, storage and distribution through a decentralised, strengthened and universal PDS, universal nutrition services for children, special provisions such as community kitchens in urban areas, provision of cooked meals for the destitute persons, social security pensions for the aged and strong grievance redressal and monitoring mechanism is the need of the hour[2]. One can only hope that when the ordinance is debated in the Parliament amendments towards strengthening its provisions as introduced by the Left and some regional parties are discussed and passed.

 

References:

Bhalla, Surjit (2013): Manmonia’s FSB: 3% of GDP, Indian Express, 6 July 2013

Drèze, Jean and Reetika Khera (2011): PDS leakages: the plot thickens, The Hindu, 12 August 2011

Himanshu (2011): A revived PDS is visible now, Livemint, 16 August 2011

Khera, Reetika (2011): Revival of the Public Distribution System: Evidence and Explanations, Economic and Political Weekly, Volume 46 Issue 44

Sen, Abhijit and Himanshu (2011): Why Not a Universal Food Security Legislation?, Economic and Political Weekly, Volume 46 Issue 12



[1] 2.1 kg per head is the average consumption from PDS for the entire population and not just the 44% who are accessing PDS.

[2] See www.righttofoodindia.org for the Right to Food Campaign’s demands in relation to the Food Security Act. It covers all of these aspects.

 

Summary of The National Food Security Bill 2013

 Tehelka Bureau

Revised version, as tabled in Parliament on 22 March 2013. Read full text of the Bill (Download PDF).

1. Preliminaries

The Bill seeks “to provide for food and nutritional security in human life cycle approach, by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices to people to live a life with dignity and for matters connected therewith and incidental thereto”.

It extends to the whole of India and “shall come into force on such date as the Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette appoint, and different dates may be appointed for different States and different provisions of this Act”.

2. Entitlements

Public Distribution System (TPDS)

Priority households are entitled to 5 kgs of foodgrains per person per month, and Antyodaya households to 35 kgs per household per month. The combined coverage of Priority and Antyodaya households (called “eligible households”) shall extend “up to 75% of the rural population and up to 50% of the urban population”.

The PDS issue prices are given in Schedule I: Rs 3/2/1 for rice/wheat/millets (actually called “coarse grains” in the Bill). These may be revised after three years.

Children’s Entitlements

For children in the age group of 6 months to 6 years, the Bill guarantees an age-appropriate meal, free of charge, through the local anganwadi. For children aged 6-14 years, one free mid-day meal shall be provided every day (except on school holidays) in all schools run by local bodies, government and government aided schools, up to Class VIII. For children below six months, “exclusive breastfeeding shall be promoted”.

Children who suffer from malnutrition will be identified through the local anganwadi and meals will be provided to them free of charge “through the local anganwadi”.

Entitlements of Pregnant and Lactating Women

Every pregnant and lactating mother is entitled to a free meal at the local anganwadi (during pregnancy and six months after child birth) as well as maternity benefits of Rs 6,000, in instalments.

[Notes: (1) “Meal” is defined in the Bill as “hot cooked meal or ready to eat meal or take home ration, as may be prescribed by the Central Government”. All “meals” have to meet nutritional norms specified in Schedule II. (2) The entitlements of women and children are to be delivered by state governments through schemes “in accordance with the guidelines, including cost sharing” to be prescribed by the Central Government. (3) Every school and anganwadi is to have “facilities for cooking meals, drinking water and sanitation”. (4) For purposes of issuing ration cards, the eldest woman in the household (not less than 18 years of age) shall be considered head of the household.]

3. Identification of Eligible Households

The Bill does not specify criteria for the identification of households (Priority or Antyodaya) eligible for PDS entitlements. The Central Government is to determine the state-wise coverage of the PDS, in terms of proportion of the rural/urban population. Then numbers of eligible persons will be calculated from Census population figures. The identification of eligible households is left to state governments, subject to the scheme’s guidelines for Antyodaya, and subject to guidelines to be “specified” by the state government for Priority households. The lists of eligible households are to be placed in the public domain and “displayed prominently” by state governments.

4. Food Commissions

The Bill provides for the creation of State Food Commissions. Each Commission shall consist of a chairperson, five other members and a member-secretary (including at least two women and one member each from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes).

The main function of the State Commission is to monitor and evaluate the implementation of the act, give advice to the states governments and their agencies, and inquire into violations of entitlements (either suo motu or on receipt of a complaint, and with “all the powers of a civil court while trying a suit under the Code of Civil Procedure 1908”). State Commissions also have to hear appeals against orders of the District Grievance Redressal Officer and prepare annual reports to be laid before the state legislature.

The State Commission may forward “any case” to a Magistrate having jurisdiction, who shall proceed as if the case has been forwarded under Section 346 of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973.

5. Transparency and Grievance Redressal

The Bill provides for a two-tier grievance redressal structure, involving the District Grievance Redressal Officer (DGRO) and State Food Commission. State governments must also put in place an internal grievance redressal mechanism which may include call centres, help lines, designation of nodal officers, “or such other mechanisms as may be prescribed”.

Transparency Provisions

Mandatory transparency provisions include: (1) placing all PDS-related records in the public domain and keeping them open for inspection to the public; (2) conducting periodic social audits of the PDS and other welfare schemes; (3) using information and communication technology (including end-to-end computerisation of the PDS) “to ensure transparent recording of transactions at all levels”; (4) setting up vigilance committees at state, district, block and fair price shop levels to supervise all schemes under the act.

District Grievance Redressal Officers

DGROS shall be appointed by state governments for each district to hear complaints and take necessary action according to norms to be prescribed by state governments. If a complainant (or the officer or authority against whom an order has been passed by the DGRO) is not satisfied, he or she may file an appeal before the State Food Commission.

Penalties and Compensation

The Food Commissions have powers to impose penalties. If an order of the DGRO is not complied with, the concerned authority or officer can be fined up to Rs. 5,000. The Commission can authorise “any of its members” to act as an adjudicating officer for this purpose.

In case of “non-supply of the entitled quantities of foodgrains or meals to entitled persons”, such persons will be entitled to a food security allowance from the state government, as prescribed by the central government.

6. Other Provisions

PDS Reforms

In Chapter VII, the Bill states that central and state governments “shall endeavour to progressively undertake” various PDS reforms, including: doorstep delivery of foodgrains; ICT applications and end-to-end computerisation; leveraging “aadhaar” (UID) for unique identification of entitled beneficiaries; full transparency of records; preference to public institutions or bodies in licensing of fair price shops; management of fair price shops by women or their collectives; diversification of commodities distributed under the PDS; full transparency of records; and “introducing schemes such as cash transfer, food coupons or other schemes to the targeted beneficiaries in lieu of their foodgrain entitlements” as prescribed by the central government.

Obligations of Government and Local Authorities

The main obligation of the Central Government is to provide foodgrains (or, failing that, funds) to state governments, at prices specified in Schedule I, to implement the main entitlements. It also has to “provide assistance” to state governments to meet local distribution costs, but on its own terms (“as may be prescribed”). The Central Government has wide-ranging powers to make Rules.

The main obligation of state governments is to implement the relevant schemes, in accordance with the guidelines issued by the Central Government. State governments also have wide-ranging powers to make Rules. They are free to extend benefits and entitlements beyond what is prescribed in the Bill, from their own resources.

Local Authorities and Panchayati Raj Institutions are responsible for proper implementation of the act in their respective areas, and may be given additional responsibilities by notification.

7. Schedules

The Bill has three schedules (these can be amended “by notification”). Schedule 1 prescribes issue prices for the PDS. Schedule 2 prescribes “nutritional standards” for midday meals, take-home rations and related entitlements. For instance, take-home rations for children aged 6 months to 3 years should provide at least 500 calories and 12-15 grams of protein. Schedule 3 lists various “provisions for advancing food security”, under three broad headings: (1) revitalization of agriculture (e.g. agrarian reforms, research and development, remunerative prices), (2) procurement, storage and movement of foodgrains (e.g. decentralised procurement), and (3) other provisions (e.g. drinking water, sanitation, health care, and “adequate pensions” for “senior citizens, persons with disability and single women”).

 

Summary of National Food Security Bill 2013 prepared by Jean Dreze on behalf of TEHELKA

RIGHT TO FOOD CAMPAIGN REJECTS THE NATIONAL FOOD SECURITY BILL CLEARED BY THE CABINET

 
THE CAMPAIGN WILL CONTINUE PROTESTING FOR A COMPREHENSIVE FOOD SECURITY LAW
 
THIS IS A MERE SOP, A FOOD INSECURITY LAW AND NOT A FOOD SECURITY LAW

 

Jantar Mantar, New Delhi
19th March, 2013

More than 500 people of the Right to Food Campaign sitting at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi rejected the National Food Security Bill 2013 which was passed by the cabinet of the UPA Government today evening and will now be placed in the Parliament in this session.

NO TIME FRAME FOR IMPLEMENTATION

People were shocked to learn that according to the Bill that was passed, the law will not be applied in one stroke. The language of the law is that different dates may be appointed for different states and different provisions for the implementation of the Act.  This clearly means that there is no time frame for full implementation or objective criteria for phased implementation. It means the government in power has the choice to decide which state and what provisions need to be implemented. We condemn this as being against the fundamental rights of the people and the federal nature of the Indian state.  This also clearly shows that the Government is not really committed towards ensuring the end of food insecurity of the teeming millions of the country.

FLAWED FRAMEWORK

The Campaign feels strongly that there is a basic flaw in the framework of the Bill as there is a complete absence of guarantees for farmers’ livelihoods, increasing production, guaranteeing Minimum Support Price along with decentralised procurement and decentralised storage. These issues remain unaddressed and only lip service has been given to them by putting them in Schedule III (enabling provisions) of the Bill.

PUBLIC DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM (PDS) A MOCKERY

The Bill entitles only 67 per cent of the population to subsidised foodgrains under the PDS. This would continue the legacy of dividing the population into APL – BPL categories and the associated problem of unfair exclusion of food insecure households from the PDS.

Only the 2.5 crore households currently covered under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (10 per cent of the country’s total population) will get 35kg of foodgrains a month. The rest of the population entitled to PDS will get only 5 kg of foodgrains per person per month. However, according to ICMR norms, the monthly foodgrain requirement of an adult is 14 kg, and of a child is 7 kg. The monthly provisioning for only 5 kg of cereal per person not only makes a mockery of the intent of the bill, but also goes against the Supreme Court order which entitles every BPL household to 35 kg of foodgrains a month under the PDS. Is this a Food Security Bill or a Food Insecurity Bill, we would like to ask. Especially when the godowns are bursting with foodgrains this entitlement could have been raised.

The absence of entitlements to pulses and oil in the PDS shows that the Bill fails to ensure good nutrition of the county’s population.

TWO CHILD NORM IN MATERNAL ENTITLEMENTS AN INTENT TO CRIMINALISING WOMEN WITH MORE THAN TWO CHILDREN

The Standing Committee recommendation of two child norm for maternal entitlements for lactating mothers after delivery is accepted, although they have tried to be ambiguous and state that it will be according to the specifications of the Central Government scheme. As the scheme has two child norm, so it stays. This clause is almost criminalising women and higher order children by denying them this maternal entitlement.

ICDS AN INITIATIVE TO HAND OVER CHILDREN’S FOOD TO CONTRACTORS

While the Campaign is relieved that the Standing Committee recommendation of removing ICDS from the Bill has been has been rejected by the Cabinet, the continuation of Schedule II for ICDS and Midday Meals is very disturbing. This retains energy dense food and nutritional standards of the Women and Child Development Ministry, which can only be met if there is centralized factory based food production. The orders of the Supreme Court of keeping private contractors out of food schemes for children would be reversed as this opens the door for contractors and companies in supply of food in ICDS, in Take Home Rations in particular. Also the effort to provide local food through Self Help Groups etc also finishes.

NOT EVEN FOR THE DESTITUTES

The complete omission of community kitchens, starvation protocol and other support to vulnerable and destitute shows the complete lack of commitment of the Government towards the poorest who need the cheap food most.

OTHER ISSUES

Grievance redressal continues to begin at the district level which is ridiculous as people with grievances need redressal at the panchayat and gram sabha level.

Since UID and cash transfers were there in the original 2011 Bill, and there are no amendment related to them, they continue to be there. The Campaign demands their omission.

Tomorrow (20 March) members of the Right to Food Campaign will meet members of the Parliament and give them 165 gm of foodgrains (the daily consumption of PDS grain by a person entitled to 5kg of foodgrains a month) to show how paltry the provisions of the Bill are.

Also, a press conference will take place tomorrow at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi at 3:30 pm.

For more information, please contact Ankita Aggarwal (9818603009), Kavita Srivastava (9351562965) or Anuradha Talwar (9433002064).

With regards

Kavita Srivastava, Anuradha Talwar, Father Jothi SJ, Ashok Khandelwal, Balram, Neeta Hardekar, Rupesh and Sejal Dand

(On behalf of the Right to Food Campaign)

Parliamentary Standing Committee Report on National Food Security Bill

The Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution has submitted its report on the National Food Security Bill. Please find attached. A related article: The cost of food security (C P Chandrashekhar, The Hindu, 20 Jan).
National Rural employment Guarantee Act

TO REJECT AND EXPOSE THE VACUOUS NATIONAL FOOD SECURITY BILL AND REASSERT OUR DEMAND FOR A COMPREHENSIVE FOOD SECURITY ACT

Ladenge!! Jeetenge!!

Jab tak bhukha insaan rahega!! dharti par toofan rahega!!

 

TO REJECT AND EXPOSE THE VACUOUS NATIONAL FOOD SECURITY BILL AND REASSERT OUR DEMAND FOR A COMPREHENSIVE FOOD SECURITY ACT

 

PUBLIC ACTION IN THREE PHASES IN MARCH 2013

 

4 – 8 March: At Jantar Mantar with the Pension Parishad Dharna

11 – 17 March:  Public Action in States, Consultations with MPs

18 – 22 March: Vishal Dharna in Delhi

 

Dear friends,

 

From the 25th to 28th of February, many of us from the steering committee met in Delhi. We met Ministers, including the Minister for Food and Consumer Affairs, GOI, several members of parliament from the opposition parties, to understand what they were thinking and also presented our critique of the Bill. We also planned the nature and modality of public action against the present bill and recommendations of the Standing Committee.

 

This circular is in two parts. Part I gives the critique of the bill and part II relates to the campaign’s plans in the month of March

 

PART I: CRITIQUE OF STANDING COMMITTEE RECOMMENDATIONS ON THE NFSB

 

Since it is very clear that the Government is gearing up to the enactment of a token food security bill, it was decided that we should gather in Delhi in large numbers to expose the vacuous nature of this bill and to demand a comprehensive food security law.  Presently the Government bill is more Bhukhmari Suraksha than Khadya Suraksha as it actually undermines the core issues of food security. In this backdrop it was felt that we had rather not have a law than have one which: 

–     undermines the food rights of children and pregnant and lactating women by not guaranteeing ICDS services provided through Anganwadi centres

–       leaves out a large population of people from the PDS by not universalising it

–       provisions only 5kg of foodgrain per person per month through the PDS, which is only half of what is required on an average in a month according to the ICMR norms

–       lowers the  grain allocation in the PDS from the present allocation

–       excludes the vulnerable, homeless, destitute people from accessing community kitchens by not provisioning for it under the garb that it is difficult to identify them

–       leaves out the provisions of pensions for the aged, infirm and single women

–       restricts maternity entitlements to only the first two children of a woman, thereby also denying children of higher birth order their right to exclusive breastfeeding for six months

–       does not guarantee nutrition security as part of food security by making it only a cereal distribution bill

–       does not guarantee Minimum Support Price (MSP) as a right or any other incentive and protection to farmers growing food

–       does not provide legal safeguards against Genetically Modified (GM) foods, commercial interests in providing food items in the ICDS and midday meals and the provisioning of cash    transfers in place of subsidised food

–       does not provide for criminal penalties or independent grievance redressal systems.

–       dilutes the legal guarantees given by the Supreme Court in the “right to food” case (PUCL vs. Union of India & Ors. CWP 196/2001) over the last 11 years which lay the framework for schemes providing food security in the country and convert provisions of these schemes into legal entitlements.

The Standing Committee’s recommendation of abolishing the divisive APL – BPL distinction in the PDS and proposing uniform pricing of rations is an extremely welcome step. However, the grain requirement for entitling 67 per cent of the country’s population (at 2011 figures) to only 5kg of foodgrains per person per month is only 48.8 million metric tonnes, much less than what is being allocated at present. Thus, this Standing Committee proposal exposes the Government’s intent to reduce the food subsidy and total food allocation. It was also felt that as a strategy we should bring to the fore the Chhattisgarh Food Security Act 2012 which is much more comprehensive than the National Food Security Bill.

 

PART II: PLAN FOR PUBLIC ACTION

According to the Minister for Food and Consumer Affairs, Prof KV Thomas, whom we met on 25 February, more than 252 amendments have been made to the original Bill which was placed in Parliament in December 2011. He said that the Bill would be placed in the Parliament between 19 to 21March. He added that the Bill would come up for discussion in the two houses when the Parliament reopens after 22 April for 20 days.   

 

The members of the steering committee decided that the public action against this bill would be in two stages. The first stage would be from the 4 – 22 March and the next stage from 22nd April onwards.

 

Public Action from the 4 to 22 March will be in three phases:

 

First Phase (4 to 8 March): with the Pension Parishad Dharna

 

The issue of the National Food Security Bill will be discussed at length at the dharna on 5 March. This period will also be used for meeting MPs and mobilising people for the upcoming dharna.

 

Second Phase (11 to 16 March): Public Action in States, Consultation with MPs

 

It was felt that public action must also happen at the state and district levels between 11-17 March. The forms of action can include dharnas, rallies, press conferences and meeting chief ministers, chief secretaries, MPs, district collectors etc regarding the Bill. With the help of CLRA, a consultation with MPs on the Bill is also being planned. 

 

Third Phase (18 to 22 March): Vishal Dharna at Jantar Mantar

 

This phase should begin with a press conference, followed by public meeting and rally. We could also burn copies of the Bill and the Standing Committee recommendations. We could give the food served in anganwadis to Krishna Tirath, Minister of Women and Child Development and packets with 160gm of foodgrains (daily consumption based on PDS entitlement of 5kg/person/month) to the Minister of Food, K V Thomas, Deputy Chairperson of Planning Commission Montek Singh Alhuwalia, UPA Chairperson, Sonia Gandhi, Vice President of All India Congress Committee, Rahul Gandhi, and other ministers. The monthly amount of Rs 600 under Delhi’s Annashree Yojana can be sent to the state’s Chief Minister and other ministers.

 

The message should be that the piecemeal, diluted and minimalistic National Food Security Bill of the Government is unacceptable. We want a Bill which entitles a universal PDS which guarantees not only foodgrains, but also oil and pulses; addresses the issues of increasing food production in a sustainable manner, decentralised procurement at remunerative MSPs and local storage, ensures the nutrition security of farmers, women, children, the elderly, persons with disabilities and those in difficult situations such as homelessness and starvation and has a mechanism of a strong, independent and sufficiently decentralised grievance redressal and public vigilance.

 

We hope that you will join the public action in large numbers.

 

In solidarity

 

Kavita Srivastava

(On behalf of the Steering Group of the Right to Food Campaign)

 

For more information, please contact Dheeraj (9871799410) or Ankita (9818603009).

 

 

Bhojan poshan shikshan, maang raha hai desh ka bachpan!!

 

APL – BPL khatam karo, sabko ration pension do!!

 

Sabko pura ration do!! dal, tel, anaaj do!!

 

 

Secretariat – Right to Food Campaign
First Floor, E-39, Lajpat Nagar -III, New Delhi 110024. India
Email: righttofoodindia@gmail.com | Phone – 91 -11 -29849563
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“HUNGER AND NUTRITION: TIME TO ACT” Amartya Sen Argues for an Improved Food Security Bill

(New Delhi, 15 February 2013)

Speaking to an enthralled audience of 1,500 students and faculty at IIT (Delhi) today, Amartya Sen said that the idea of the National Food Security Bill was “a matter of appreciation and support”, and that the tabling of the Bill in Parliament was in itself a big achievement.  However, he also drew attention to various shortcomings of the Bill and argued for it to be strengthened, particularly in terms of children’s entitlements.

Also in this panel discussion on “Hunger and Nutrition: Time to Act” were Montek Singh Ahluwalia (Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission), Shantha Sinha (Chairperson, National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights) and Shyama Singh (NREGA Sahayata Kendra, Latehar District, Jharkhand).  Shyama Singh, an Adivasi activist from Latehar District in Jharkhand, opened the discussion with a spirited account of people’s struggles for their basic entitlements, including employment under NREGA, land titles and the Public Distribution System. She paid homage to her friends Lalit Mehta and Niyamat Ansari who have lost their lives in this struggle.

Recalling the critical importance of early childhood for lifetime health and wellbeing, Sen deplored the fact that children’s entitlements under the food security bill were so weak. Recent Supreme Court orders on midday meals and the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), he said, have made an important contribution to the health and nutrition of children. The Bill, he felt, should not dilute these entitlements in any way.

Sen also stressed that health, nutrition and elementary education were important in themselves as well as for long-run economic success. Neglecting children is not only unjust but also an economic blunder.

Shanta Sinha, chairperson of the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) also pleaded the case of young children and criticized the National Food Security Bill for giving them a raw deal. She took issue with the Parliamentary Standing Committee report on the Bill, which suggests replacing children’s entitlements with an additional allocation of 5 kgs of foodgrains per month for pregnant women under the PDS. The word “anganwadi”, she pointed out, is not even mentioned in the revised version of the Bill, despite the critical importance of ICDS services for children. Shantha Sinha also criticized the proposal to restrict maternity entitlements in the Bill to the first two children.

Amartya Sen recalled that the principles of free and universal provision of essential health, education and nutrition services were part of the country’s vision at the time of Independence. It can be found, for instance, in the Bhore Committee Report on health, 1946. The country needs to revive this broad view of the links between human capability, economic success, and social justice.

Professor Sen recalled in particular three advantages of universal coverage when it comes to basic public services and social facilities. First, it makes these facilities a matter of citizens’ right, and avoids any exclusion. Second, it ensures that powerful and influential people have a stake in them. Third, universal coverage helps to avoid corruption.

Montek Singh Ahluwalia agreed that malnutrition among children was indeed a national shame, as the Prime Minister himself put it a year ago, and gave credit to civil society for sensitizing the government to this issue. Also a matter of shame, he said, was the state of nutrition statistics, with the latest comprehensive data on child health and nutrition going back to the Third National Family Health Survey, conducted in 2005-6. He stressed the need for a range of interventions, related for instance to immunization, breastfeeding, drinking water and sanitation. He said that the government was also committed to a Public Distribution System that provided access to subsidized grain. Anticipating concerns from the business media and others about the costs of the food bill, Ahluwalia said: “I don’t think the government or anyone else should say that we can’t afford the food subsidy because of the fiscal deficit… that would be actually dishonest”. He added, however, that funding the Bill might call for a reduction of other expenditure.

Professor Sen also spoke about the politics of food and other subsidies.  He pointed out that there are powerful lobbies for diesel and LPG subsidies, and even for exemptions of custom duties on gold imports, but not for children’s rights.  Because of these imbalances of power and influence, there are also massive imbalances in India’s spending priorities.  In his concluding remarks, Sen argued that better practice of democracy was the way to bring about constructive change, and invited everyone to contribute to it.

Dr. Reetika Khera (IIT, Delhi), who chaired the discussion on behalf of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, spoke about the findings of recent field surveys of social programmes such as NREGA and the PDS, conducted by student volunteers. One of the main insights of these surveys, she said, was that these programmes can make a real difference to people’s lives – something that the media, and even academic research, often fail to report.

For further information, please contact Ujjainee Sharma (9818364825ujjaineec@gmail.com) or Reetika Khera (9958801227,reetika.khera@gmail.com).

For a full video of the discussion see www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ve7QqUeAzmA&feature=plcp

 

Food security bill to cost Rs 23,000 crore: Centre

By , TNN | Feb 9, 2013, 04.27 AM IST

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Food-security-bill-to-cost-Rs-23000-crore-Centre/articleshow/18409319.cms

Food security bill to cost Rs 23,000 crore: Centre
The National Food Security Bill seeks to cover 75% of the rural population and 50% of urban population in the country.
NEW DELHI: The UPA government on Friday expressed difficulty in implementing the National Food Security Bill, touted to bring in revolutionary changes in alleviating poverty, through an executive order prior to its approval by Parliament, saying it involved a cost of Rs 23,000 crore.

Given the pendency of a public interest litigation on right to food for more than a decade, the court had asked the Centre to examine the feasibility of implementing the National Food Security Bill provisions through an executive order.

Attorney general G E Vahanvati told a bench of Justices T S Thakur and F M I Kalifulla that if the government implemented the food security bill through an executive order, without appropriate budgetary provisions approved by Parliament, it would have serious financial implications.

“Implementation of the provisions of the National Food Security Bill will entail an additional financial implication on the central government of approximately Rs 23,000 crore on account of food subsidy. However, the exact amount of subsidy may vary depending upon the final shape of the bill as approved by the Parliament,” Vahanvati said.

“Under the constitutional scheme, financial allocation can only be made by Parliament and sanction for the expenditure for implementation of the provisions of the bill can be made only after the enactment of the National Food Security Bill by Parliament,” the ministry of consumer affairs said in an affidavit.

But the bench said the PIL by People’s Union for Civil Liberties had gone on for more than 12 years. “All we wanted was implementation of the changes in the public distribution system administering mechanism, as suggested by the Justice D P Wadhwa committee,” it said. Vahanvati said he would consult the government and get back with the response about implementing the administrative changes.

Among the changes suggested by the Wadhwa committee was nationalization of fair price shops run by private parties. The committee said fair price shops run by private individuals were “epicenters of corruption where shopowner, transporters, corrupt officials and politicians are hand in glove to cheat public”.

The committee had suggested a civil supply corporation in each state to work as an independent body to distribute PDS foodgrain at fair price shop level and take over existing fair price shops. “Ideally, fair price shops should be run by state level corporations, panchayati raj institutions, cooperatives and registered women’s self-help groups (SHGs). Fair price shops should not be run by private individuals. Wherever fair price shop is operated by private individuals, they should be phased out gradually and their place taken over by cooperatives or women SHGs,” the committee had said.

The bill seeks to cover 75% of the rural population and 50% of urban population in the country. The latest calculation of Rs 23,000 crore towards food subsidy falls much short of initial estimates, which suggested that the subsidy could be upwards of Rs 1 lakh crore.

The bill envisages a minimum of 46% of the rural population and 28% urban population to be given 7 kg of foodgrains per month per person. Rice would be provided at Rs 3 a kg, wheat at Rs 2 and coarse grains at Re 1 a kg.

The rest of the targeted population would get 3 kg of grains per person per month at half the minimum support price offered to farmers by the government during procurement. Existing nutrition and select social security schemes were also envisaged to be brought under the proposed legislation as an entitlement.

dhananjay.mahapatra@timesgroup.com

National Food Security Bill: An Unfinished Battle

http://www.hindustantimes.com/News-Feed/HarshMander/An-unfinished-battle/Article1-1005882.aspx

Harsh Mander
February 03, 2013
A potentially historic piece of social legislation that will legally guarantee food for all is likely to soon conclude its prolonged, rocky and uncertain journey. Parliament, in its forthcoming budget session, is expected to finally decide the contours of a law to reduce endemic widespread hunger and malnourishment in the country.

The imagination of this statute is to create legally binding obligations for the State to ensure food – as subsidised grain, infant feeds, free cooked meals and social security cash transfers – to every child, woman and man lacking assured access to sufficient food for an active and healthy life. In a country which, despite galloping economic growth, is home to every third malnourished child in the world, and the largest number of chronically hungry people, one could have expected substantial national consensus for the proposed bill.

But many among the country’s senior leadership, lawmakers, planners, economists, industry and the influential middle class remain ambivalent about a food law, convinced that it is profligate and administratively not implementable. No wonder that the proposed law has been continuously eroded at every stage of its four-year journey. The initial draft law by the National Advisory Council (NAC) and the right to food campaign were criticised by the Left parties for failing to universally cover all households with subsidised foodgrains. It contained many robust protections for children, women, destitute groups, malnourished children and people in starvation, but these were curtailed in a weakened bill approved by the Cabinet for Parliament.

I still had faith that the Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) would restore the body and soul of a strong food law, as it had done for the Right to Information statute. The PSC did improve on earlier proposals in two ways. First, it covers all households with uniform entitlements of subsidised grain except those which are excluded by transparent criteria. Second, it extends school meals to children up to 16 years, up from the current 14 years. But my optimism lies belied, because the PSC otherwise diluted the already weakened official draft, with many disappointing and indefensible deletions.

It brought down the numbers eligible for subsidised grain in the countryside to 75% from 90%, as proposed by the NAC. The quantity of grain per individual is also down to 5 kg from the proposed 7 kg, despite massive grain procurement of over 60 million tonnes over the past five years – which the government still prefers to let rot rather than distribute to the hungry.

Even graver is the complete elimination of the Integrated Child Development Service (ICDS) from the ambit of the law on the specious grounds that ICDS is not yet equipped to deliver legal guarantees because of operational and programmatic gaps. Malnutrition sets in irreversibly in the first 1,000 days of life, and indeed even before this in the mother’s womb, and ICDS is the only State programme which serves children below six years, with pregnant and nursing mothers. The Supreme Court converted all ICDS services into legal guarantees more than a decade ago in 2001, and the PSC seeks to reverse this now.

The PSC further curtails children’s right to food, by restricting this to only one meal a day, provided in schools for children of two to 16 years “or the age at which they start school”. As children enter government school only at six, this excludes children in the age group of two to six. The food rights of the most vulnerable children of all, those who do not attend school, through the requirement that no child would be turned away from any feeding centre on any grounds, are again eliminated.

The proposal to entitle lactating mothers support for exclusive breastfeeding through assistance at birth, skilled breastfeeding counselling and related assistance is again withdrawn. Further, governments aren’t duty-bound to identify malnourished children and entitlements of severely malnourished children to care at Nutrition Rehabilitation Centres or in the community have been withdrawn. The committee also restricts maternity benefits only to two children. This unfairly penalises poorest women and children, because large families are a result of poverty, gender inequalities and poor health services.

It is equally unfortunate that the PSC removes destitute feeding centres, suggesting that such a programme will be difficult to implement. Tamil Nadu and Orissa have implemented successful destitute feeding programmes for years, and this has been the last defence of the poorest against starvation in these states. Other reasons cited by the PSC for deletion are extraordinarily disrespectful to the poor, suggesting that poor households will turn away old members just so that they can get free food.

Gone also are other entitlements of persons living with starvation. These included duties of state governments to establish protocols for preventing starvation, providing relief, investigating starvation deaths and assigning accountability. Likewise, all protections for people grappling with emergencies are also excised from the bill.

All effective rights legislations, like the Right to Information law, require strong independent grievance redress mechanisms, with penalties for violations by public officials. Both the Cabinet draft and the PSC have completely diluted these enforcement systems, thereby critically weakening the law.

Although convincing economic arguments can be made in support of a food rights law for strengthening the gains of India’s demographic dividend, I have argued in my book Ash in the Belly: India’s Unfinished Battle Against Hunger that ultimately the case for the law is ethical, the unacceptability of mass suffering of hunger and malnutrition in a country with wealth and food resources. Gandhi had counselled us to recall, in moments of doubt, the poorest and weakest person we know. I hope that it is his face which our lawmakers remember when they reflect on a law which – if we get it right – can alter the destinies of millions of our most dispossessed people.

Harsh Mander is Director, Centre for Equity Studies. The views expressed by the author are personal

Central government to redraft food security bill

Ajith Athrady, NEW DELHI, Jan 30, 2013, DHNS:

The UPA Government’s much-hyped cheap foodgrain scheme is likely to be delayed further with the Centre on Wednesday deciding to redraft the National Food Security Bill by incorporating suggestions made by the Parliament Standing Committee on Food and Consumer Affairs.

The decision was taken at a high level meeting convened at the Prime Minister’s Office to discuss the panel’s recommendations. It was also decided to withdraw the current bill from Parliament and table a new bill in the coming Budget Session.

Though Union Food and Consumer Affairs Minister K V Thomas claimed that the new bill would be passed in the Budget Session, officials are sceptical.

“Drafting a new bill means the entire exercise has to start afresh. Even the Food Ministry has to call a meeting of the states — either of food ministers or chief ministers — to consult on this issue again,” sources in the government told Deccan Herald.

No more review by panel

The new bill, which will be drafted by the Food and Consumer Affairs Ministry, will not be sent to the Standing Committee again as all its suggestions on the existing bill will be incorporated in the new one, sources added.

The new bill will, however, protect the Anna Antyodaya Yojane category beneficiaries, wherein the poorest among poor will get 35 kg of foodgrain in a month. Besides, there will be coverage up to 75 per cent in 250 backward districts, while it will be 90 per cent in 13 states including the northeastern region.

The total coverage under the scheme will remain 67 per cent in the country in the new bill and the cost to the exchequer will also be less than Rs 1.20 lakh crore a year, said an official from the ministry.

Instead of modifying the existing bill, the government has decided to draft a new bill to incorporate the many recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Food and Consumer Affairs headed by Congress MP Vilas Muttemwar, the official said.

Though the government had long ago announced to introduce the cheap foodgrain scheme through legislation, it is struggling to fine-tune it.

‘Food Security Bill is somewhat defective’ : Dr. MS Swaminathan

Jan 6, 2012, 04.40AM IST

Q: Is food security just a concept or is achievable? 

A: Of course it is attainable. There are three main issues. First is availability of food in the market. For which farmers have to produce more. Second is access to food, whether one has the money to buy it. That’s what the (food security) Bill aims to achieve. Third is absorption of food in the body, which is a function of clean drinking water. Drinking water is the most important component. That is why Rajiv Gandhi Water Mission, Total Sanitation Mission and National Rural Health Mission should be brought together under the food security Act. Otherwise, the child may eat a lot but, what we call leaky pot, yet not absorb the food.
Q: What should be the approach to ensure food for all?

A: One is the conception to cremation lifecycle approach. That is why there are different programmes such as the school meal programme, programmes for pregnant women and so on to feed right from conception stage to death. We have to enlarge the food basket through the public distribution system. Not only wheat and rice but nutria-millets such as jowar, ragi, bajra, madua should be included in the PDS. In China, out of over 500 million tones food grains, 140 million tones are nutria-cereals and millets. It is 50 to 60 million ton in our country. Secondly, women must be declared head of households for entitlement under the PDS and food security Act. They should be considered in-charge of food security in the family. That is important because women can ensure nutrition from newborns to the eldest in the family.
Q: How can cereals and millet production increase?

A: Procurement is the greatest stimulation for production. The more the government will procure, the famers will produce more. Farmers will increase production if the consumption capacity in the country increases. We should look at grains other than rice and wheat which are nutritious to have a big range. The crop holiday in Andhra Pradesh should be a wakeup call when farmers stopped production because there was no demand.
Q: Are you happy with Food Security Bill?

A: The Bill is somewhat defective in some respects. It calls for selective PDS. I personally believe there should be universal PDS as is in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The country should follow the principle of exclusion as against inclusion. Categorization of below poverty line (BPL), above poverty line (APL) and targeted PDS are controversial issues and there is large amount of corruption in such classification. One has to pay money to be a BPL. Why to get into those? There should be transparent criteria to exclude people. For example income tax payers, those who own a car and so on can be excluded from food security provisions. The proposed food security Act is the largest social protection against hunger anywhere in the world. Its success will depend upon how far we are able to reach all those who need food. In the current approach, lots of street children and the destitute will be left out.
Q: So what should be done?

A: I am pressing for the principal of exclusion. Besides putting a number of transparent criteria for excluding those from food security, selfexclusion should be the guiding principle. Tell people that those who do not need food should not ask for it. Even if you include a man who should be excluded doesn’t matter. But never should a deserving man be excluded. Freedom from hunger is freedom from corruption. The Bill must be based on a culture of honesty. Don’t develop a bill on a negative basis that people are always dishonest. The Bill has been referred to the select committee. I am sure it will take evidence from a large number of people and have a transparent criteria.
Q: Why are you a votary of traditional technology?

A: I am for combination of traditional and modern technologies, what is called eco technology. We must combine the good ecological principles of the past with the latest technology. Take for example Koraput, which was recognized as globally important agriculture heritage system. The conservation of biodiversity by tribals is commendable and is very important. Traditional wisdom is very relevant. Don’t destroy the good habits, rather build on previous knowledge. Don’t discard something because it is old or don’t worship something because it is new.We must ensure that technology is economically, environmentally and socially sustainable.
Q: How come you got so much interested in Koraput?

A: I started my career in Central Rice Research Institute at CRRI Cuttack in 1954. Soon after my post-doctoral research at the University of Wisconsin, I had joined CRRI. I had visited Koraput many times then. The tribals protecting biodiversity should be encouraged more. This will help stop genetic erosion.
Q:What is the biggest challenge for food security?

A: Conservation of natural resources, mainly land and water, is the biggest challenge. Land is going out of agriculture. Real estate has become so expensive. This is becoming more important in the context of climate change.
Q: Are we prepared for climate change?

A: The world is not prepared so far. People need to be aware of the impact of climate change, which is real. Thousands of people living close to the sea coast will become climate refugees. The world must take anticipatory action to check the impact of high temperature, floods, and other fallouts of climate change. Diversification of food grains is also very important in context of climate change because one or the other of these can be produced in adverse climate conditions, which we don’t know as yet. The business as usual approach people must change.
Q: Do you foresee a workable solution to climate change?

A: Well, the solution has to be both technical and political. We need a synergy between science and public policy. Everybody starting from the grassroots level to the world leaders must be climate-change literate. Our foundation (MSSRF Foundation) has started a programme called ‘Every child is a scientist’. Not that everyone will grow to become a scientist. But everyone must have a questioning mind and understand what is biology, climate and so on.

Source: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bhubaneswar/Food-Security-Bill-is-somewhat-defective/articleshow/11383154.cms