I Second Look

Second Look FOOD BILL
No Free Lunch
Will the Food Security Bill
improve the abysmal living
conditions of the poor, or
is it just another electoral
N an attempt to revitalise its
image, the corruption-tainted
United Progressive Alliance
(UPA) government at the centre is hopeful of placing the
much-awaited National Food Security Bill before Parliament’s winter
session. With an eye on the next Lok
Sabha elections, the government is
relying heavily on the passage of the
bill and is probably keeping its fingers crossed – hoping to overcome
the rift between the government and
the public.
India is a signatory to the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
and the International Covenant on
Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights
(1966), which recognise the right to
adequate food for all the citizens.
Moreover, the Indian Constitution,
through the Directive Principles of
State Policy, expects the state to raise
the level of nutrition and standard of
living of its people, and improve public health. In 1996, in Chameli Singh
vs State of Uttar Pradesh, the Supreme
Court declared that the right to live
guaranteed in any civilised society
implies the right to food, among the
other rights. In 2001, the People’s
Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) filed
a writ petition contending that the
right to food was a part of the Fun24
damental Right to Life provided in
Article 21 of the Constitution. As part
of the ongoing litigation in the case,
the Court has also issued several interim orders. In 2001, the Court ordered the implementation of eight
centrally-sponsored schemes as legal
entitlements. These include the Public
Distribution System (PDS), Antyodaya
Anna Yojana (AAY), Mid-Day Meal
Scheme, and Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), among others. In 2008, the Court ordered that
Below Poverty Line (BPL) families
be entitled to 35 kg of foodgrains per
month at subsidised prices. In light of
these developments, in October 2010,
the National Advisory Council (NAC)
drafted a National Food Security Bill,
proposing legal entitlements for food
for about 75% of the population.
In January 2011, an expert committee, set up by the prime minister
under the chairmanship of Dr C Rangarajan examined the bill and made
several recommendations, including reducing the proportion of the
population entitled to the benefits
and computerisation of PDS. A draft
bill was circulated by the Ministry of
Food, Consumer Affairs and Public
Distribution for public feedback in
September 2011. The current bill was
introduced in Parliament in December 2011.
The bill proposes foodgrain entitlements for up to 75% of the rural and
up to 50% of the urban population. Of
these, at least 46% of the rural and 28%
of the urban population will be desig-
nated as priority households. The rest
will be designated as general households. While priority households
will be entitled to seven kilograms
of subsidised foodgrains per person
per month, general households will
be entitled to at least three kilograms
of subsidised foodgrains. The task to
determine the percentage of people in
each state that will belong to the priority and general groups rests with
the central government. However,
before the approval of the central
government, state governments will
primarily identify households that
belong to these groups. Considering
that the bill classifies the population
into three categories - priority, general, and other groups, any scheme
that separates the population into
categories requires the identification
and classification of actual beneficiaries. However, targeting mechanisms
have been prone to large inclusion
and exclusion errors.
In 2009, an expert group estimated
that about 61% of the eligible population was excluded from the BPL list
while 25% of non-poor households
were included in the BPL list. In the
light of such controversies, it is unclear how the problem of inclusion
and exclusion errors will be addressed
under the bill. Experts believe that a
scheme that provides universal coverage would certainly be prone to such
errors and would involve significantly higher costs. Schedule III of the bill
proposes meal entitlements to specific groups which include pregnant
women and lactating mothers, children between the ages of six months
and 14 years, malnourished children,
disaster affected persons, and destitute, homeless, and starving persons.
However, experts differ on whether
such goals will directly be related to
food security. Furthermore, it is unclear why these specific groups have
been included in the bill - Though it
provides similar definitions for starv-
ing and destitute persons,
entitlements to the
two groups
bill intends
to cover a
large chunk
of the people
of India under its ambit,
should be designed to deal
with the logistical issues
that will definitely come
counter this,
some provisions
been included in the bill
to carry out
much needed
the Targeted
Public Distribution System (TPDS). Moreover, special mechanisms are also proposed to
be set up at the district, state, and central levels for grievance redressal. According to the mechanism of redressing the grievances which consists of
District Grievance Redressal Officers
(DGROs), State Food Commissions,
and a National Food Commission, the
bill aims to establish a parallel framework to the one provided by the right
of citizens for the time-bound delivery of goods and services and redressal of their grievances bill, 2011, (Citizens’ Charter Bill) which is pending
in Parliament. However, several entitlements and the grievance redressal
structure would require state legislatures to make adequate budgetary
allocations. Implementation of the
bill may also be affected if states do
not pass requisite allocations in their
budgets or do not possess adequate
funds. Moreover the citizens’ charter
bill requires every public authority to
appoint grievance redressal officers at
the local, state, and central levels, and
create state and central public grievance redressal commissions. Under
this bill, persons may complain to
DGROs in matters relating to the
distribution of entitled foodgrains
or meals. It is unclear if a complaint
may be made related to the exclusion
of deserving households from the priority or general groups.
The bill entitles destitute persons to
one free meal per day. It also entitles
Second Look FOOD BILL
persons suffering from starvation to
two free meals per day for six months.
Going by the definition of destitute
person - which includes those vulnerable to live with starvation or die of
starvation - it is unclear why the bill
makes a separate provision for persons living in starvation or conditions
akin to starvation.
The bill also lacks clarity on the
points like why the entitlements provided to these two groups differ. Experts have also asked as to how the
persons identified as starving will be
treated after six months. Also, there
are no provisions to identify destitute
and homeless persons.
The bill also specifies that the central government, state governments,
and local authorities shall strive progressively towards the objectives of
providing access to safe and adequate
drinking water and sanitation, healthcare, nutritional, health and educational support to adolescent girls,
adequate pensions for senior citizens,
persons with disability, and single
women. The arguments persist why
such objectives that are not directly
related to food security have been included in the bill.
Moreover, implementation of the
bill will entail a subsidy of a whopping ` 1.12 lakh crore on the exchequer. As per provisions, using 2011
census population, the requirement
of foodgrains for TPDS and other
welfare schemes prescribed in the
bill is estimated at 607.4 lakh tonnes.
However, the stock of foodgrains
available in the central pool as on 1
March 2012 was 544.3 lakh tonnes.
The average annual procurement of
rice and wheat during the last four
years (2007-08 to 2010-11) has been
about 570 lakh tonnes. An imbalance
in the amount of foodgrains procured
vis-à-vis the quantum needed to be
distributed may create nightmares for
the government.
The financial also memorandum
7 kg foodgrains per person per month at ` 3/kg for
wheat, ` 2/kg for rice, ` 1/kg for coarse grains
At least 3 kg foodgrains per person per month at
50% of minimum support price (MSP)
Pregnant women & lactat- Free meals during pregnancy and six months thereing mothers
after; and ` 1,000 per month for 6 months
Children (6 months to 14
Free meal at local anganwadi (6 months to 6
years); Mid-day meal at school (6 to 14 years)
Malnourished children
Free meals
Destitute persons
One free meal per day
Homeless persons
Affordable meals at community kitchens
Starving persons
Two free meals per day for 6 months
Emergency & disasteraffected persons
Two free meals per day for 3 months
specifies 26 items of expenditure, but
provides an estimate only for buffer
stocks, food subsidy, and maternity
benefits. The total annual estimate
for these three items is a whopping
` 1.12 lakh crore. However, this may
not reflect the total cost of implementing the provisions of the bill. Some
experts have made estimates of the
total cost, ranging from ` 2 lakh crore
to ` 3.5 lakh crore. Meanwhile the bill
specifies entitlements to be provided
by states. It also prescribes a specific
administrative structure. In certain
cases, costs will be shared between
the centre and states. Costs imposed
on states (partial or full) include nutritional support to pregnant women
and lactating mothers, mid-day meals,
anganwadi infrastructure, meals for
children suffering from malnutrition,
meals for persons living in starvation,
transport, and delivery of foodgrains,
creating and maintaining storage
facilities, and costs associated with
DGROs and state food commissions.
This implies that state legislatures
may be required to allocate funds
to meet the provisions of the bill in
their annual budgets. If so, this may
restrict their flexibility to allocate re-
sources according to their own priorities. On the other hand, implementation of the bill may be affected if state
legislatures do not make the requisite
fund allocations or do not possess adequate funds to do so.
A similar issue has been addressed in the Right of Children to
Free and Compulsory Education Act,
2009 (RTE Act). Unlike the RTE Act,
the bill does not mention what shall
be done in case a state does not have
enough funds to implement the provisions of the bill.
There is also some opposition to
the bill on the grounds that it legalises
the PDS even though there are large
instances of the inefficiency of the system. Some economists contend that in
addition to reforming the PDS, other
alternate models of subsidy delivery
should be examined such as direct
cash transfers or food stamps. The
system of direct cash transfer through
food coupons was also outlined in the
Economic Survey of 2009-10. It stated
that such a system would make the
scheme less prone to corruption by
cutting down government’s involvement in procuring, storing, and distributing food grains.