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ISSUES

National Food Security Bill is a farce: NGO
Wednesday, 03 August, 2011, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
The NGO, Right to Food Campaign, has written an open letter to the Prime Minister of India and his Council of Ministers, rejecting the EGoM-cleared draft of the Food Security Bill. In its letter, it has appealed to the PM to respond to the needs of hunger and malnutrition of women, children and excluded groups and to save the PDS and the farmers.

New Delhi,

2nd August, 2011

Dr Manmohan Singh

Prime Minister of India

New Delhi

Dear Dr Singh

As you are aware, the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) has recently approved the Department of Food and Consumer Affairs draft of the National Food Security Bill (NFSB) and the government claims that it is now ready to be placed before the Cabinet.

This draft Bill makes a complete mockery of the idea of food security for all and dilutes even existing entitlements obtained through the Supreme Court. It was expected from the aam admi UPA Sarkar that it will increase investment in the schemes related to food security, in order to reduce the unacceptably high rates of malnutrition and hunger in India. Instead what we get is a draft which minimises government's obligations, restricts people's entitlements and is devoid of any accountability. The Bill interprets food security only as distribution of cereals and cooked meals and is completely silent on pulses, millets and oil. As in the earlier EGoM draft of March 2010, there is no commitment towards nutritional security or to see production, procurement (including local procurement), storage and distribution as an integrated process in order to address issues of food and nutritional security.

We reject this farce of a Bill and demand that the Government sincerely acts towards alleviating hunger and malnutrition in the country.

In spite of overwhelming evidence showing the failure of the BPL approach, the draft Bill continues to make a differentiation between those above and below the poverty line. The poverty line itself is too low and does not represent the extent of hunger in the country. The problems related to identification and exclusion errors are well known. The draft Bill not only links the entitlements to the poverty ratios, but also further dilutes what was even suggested by the NAC. While the NAC proposed 90% coverage of the rural population, the Government has reduced it to 75%. Further, while the NAC proposed 4 kg per head for those in the ‘general’ category, the Government’s Bill reduces it to 3 kg per head. What is even more dangerous is that by specifying that the division between ‘priority’ and ‘general’ categories will be based on ‘poverty ratios’, the Government’s Bill has paved the way for the coverage of ‘priority’ groups to shrink over time. Also, the provision of food grains to the general category at half the minimum support price (MSP) will mean that people in this category will have to pay prices which are much higher than the present BPL prices and APL prices in the long run.

The Right to Food Campaign strongly opposes the dismantling of the PDS and the replacement of PDS with cash transfers. The draft Bill not only gives the government unlimited powers to provide a “food security allowance” in cash in lieu of PDS entitlements, it also makes it mandatory (under the “Provisions for Advancing Food Security”) for the government to “strive for...  introducing scheme of cash transfers in lieu of entitlements.” These provisions are opening the door to a wholesale replacement of the PDS with cash transfers, without any safeguards. As argued in a recent letter addressed to you by a group of students and research scholars, based on a recent survey, this would be very dangerous. In this respect, the draft Bill is an unprecedented attack on food security.

Cash transfers and their impact on farmers and food security:It is our belief that the introduction of cash transfers in place of PDS will not just affect household food security but also affect production, procurement and storage systems. Those affected the most will be the farmers as the government will not procure grain as it will not need to run the PDS shops. The farmers will not get their MSP which is currently their biggest incentive to grow cereals. They will also be left to the market to sell their grains, which they may have to do at low prices. FCI godowns will not be required and the FCI in the long run will be left as a completely skeletal system. This will lead to the end of the nation’s food security.

The Right to Food Campaign apprehends that the dismantling of the PDS is being done deliberately to pave the way for the entry of organised retail into the country. Giving cash without ensuring proper food availability is putting people at the mercy of food retailer sharks and cartels. We see the replacement of food grains with cash in conjunction with the decision of your government to raise the FDI limit for international capital in the retail business. This could lead to a bigger retail corruption than the supposed leakages in the PDS, apart from putting farmers at risk.

The draft directs the Government to strive for “leveraging Aadhaar (UID) for unique identification” which the campaign is opposed to, as it will impinge on the civil liberties of the country’s residents and is a means for tracking and surveillance. Incidentally the UID is being implemented in states without even being passed by Parliament.



The draft is also extremely disappointing with respect to provisions related to children, women and excluded groups. Maternity benefits of Rs 1,000 per month for six months, an essential recommendation of the campaign and the NAC has been withdrawn. Key provisions for malnourished children, out-of-school children, migrant workers, starvation deaths, destitute feeding and community kitchens have been deleted or diluted. The draft seems to provide an opening for the replacement of cooked meals with “ready-to-eat” foods, by defining “cooked meal” as “nutritious cooked and ready to eat meal,” thus paving the way for contractors and corporations.

The entire well-crafted grievance redressal structure proposed by the NAC built on the campaign's proposal has been junked. These include the provisions for compensation and penalties and making non-bailable and cognisable the criminal proceedings for non-compliance. Similarly, the national and state Food Security Commissions have been deprived of any real powers; they are just advisory bodies. Most of the transparency provisions in the campaign and NAC draft have been dropped. Most importantly, the premise of the NAC grievance redressal mechanism was independence and autonomy of the functionaries. This has been thrown out by bringing in serving officers. This defeats the purpose of a system of checks and balances, where the implementation and monitoring were to be carried by separate agencies.

The draft also gives full powers to the Central Government, including powers to modify or withdraw most entitlements and to specify the sharing of costs with State Governments, for instance in ICDS and mid-day meal scheme which are entitlements under Section 4, 5 and 6 of the Bill; thus putting the guarantee of food security at the mercy of the Government and bypassing Parliament.

The entire Bill in fact reveals the government’s true objectives of limiting expenditure, denying responsibility and destroying existing systems as well. Although the government claims that this Bill is based on the NAC’s draft, it does complete injustice to even the already
 
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