13 March 2012

Why The Food Bill Is A Damp Squib

·                The National Food Security Bill has nothing to say on the basics that would provide food security - fair employment, proper wages, control of productive resources etc. So, it amounts to the provision of a temporary dole in socio-economic conditions that remain unchanged.

·                Despite claiming to be a Food Security Bill, it is strangely silent on the very important issues of food production, procurement and storage.

·                Entitlements under the Bill are limited and targeted. It provides only cereals or ready-to-eat food and cooked meals in limited quantities to a limited number of people, only under certain conditions and at particular times. It therefore fails to guarantee access to all people at all times.

·                     Nutritional security requires a comprehensive basket of food, with adequate quantities of pulses, oil, fruits, vegetables, milk and other food items. The NFSB provides for cereals alone for the population to be covered under the PDS. 

·                     Despite clear indications of declining food consumption and increasing hunger and malnutrition and indebtedness among the working people of the country for consumption needs, the Government has only given a paltry amount of 7 kg per head per month for the priority group and only 3 kg per head per month for the general group. These quantities meet neither the nutritional requirements for a healthy life nor even the present consumption levels.

·                     The Bill has been left open-ended and gives no definite date for notification. It allows for different dates for the notification of various sections of the law.

·                     The present law delegates the selection of the entitlement holder under the category of priority and general households to the Central Government instead of Parliament itself, thus giving to the Central Government a function that is constitutionally the prerogative of Parliament.
The Bill has created three categories – the excluded, priority households and general households in place of a universal system that existed before the 1990’s.
The Bill seems to be aimed at reducing the obligations of governments. Linking benefits to reforms prescribed by Central Government punishes those living in states that have poor governance.

·                     The Bill has left the door open to a wholesale replacement of the PDS with cash transfers, impacting household food security. This will also affect farmers as the Government will not procure grain or store it. This is a threat to the nation’s food security. 

·                     While the Supreme Court orders have made all services under the ICDS universal, the Bill talks of only universal supplementary nutrition.

·                     Services to migrants, homeless and destitute and the disabled have been left undefined.

·                     The proposed grievance redress mechanism under the NFSB begins at the district level, which is too far away for people to effectively access.

·                     Though the Bill has provisions dealing with transparency and accountability, they are not sufficient. Too much of discretion has been left to the Government to decide the modalities of inspection.

The NFSB 2011 gives sweeping powers to the Central Government. These sections are clearly in violation of the federal system of governance.

Our detailed critique is available at: http://www.scribd.com/doc/85182662/Food-Bill-Critique

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