India has a high proportion of underweight children less than 5 years of age. This not only affects the physical health of the children but also their cognitive growth. The National Food Security
Act (NFSA) aims to provide legal rights on subsidised foodgrains to 63.5 percent of the population but what should be done to improve its delivery?
Should the concerns of food security be more broad-based? Should they be aimed at achieving nutrition security that is linked to health concerns?A National Convention on Union Budget 2015-16 by the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability, New Delhi dealt with these issues. Held on 8th and 9th January 2015, it brought together around 200 Civil Society Organisations from more than 20 States to discuss the policy asks related to food and nutrition security. Some of the questions discussed included the following:
- To ensure food and nutritional security, should the National Food Security Act be rolled out immediately by the Government along with the components of Integrated Child Development Scheme, Mid-Day Meal and Maternity entitlements in the Act?
- Should the government provide adequate funds for implementation of the proposed food security Act?
Need for reforms in Public Distribution System
- Frame and pursue a decentralized policy for price fixation for procurement of foodgrains.
- Ensure facilities for procurement and storage of foodgrains at the level of every Gram Panchayat.
- Enhance transparency in the management of the Public Distribution System in procurement, storage, transportation and distribution with the help of technologies as has been adopted by many of the state governments.
- Create a Grievance Redressal Mechanism and surveillance system with an independent structure under the National Food Security Act.
Reforms needed in the Integrated Child Development Scheme
The Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) has been implemented in India since 1975 to bring about a reduction in malnutrition, child mortality and maternal mortality. Fundamental reforms needed in the programme include:
- Different departments to play their role effectively and in convergence with one another.
- Better infrastructural facilities need to be created for effective implementation of ICDS .
- Capacity building programmes of functionaries should be emphasized.
- Availability of adequate human resources should be ensured.
- Convergence among ICDS and health related schemes is an immediate need.
Changes needed in Mid-day Meal Scheme
This scheme entitles children in all government and government-aided schools to nutritious cooked meals.
- There is a need to provide an allocation of Rs. 8 per child under the mid day meal.
- There is need to enlist better community participation in scheme implementation.
- Kitchens provided under the scheme call for special provisions to address the issue of quality and maintenance of their services.
Say no to Genetically Modified (GM) crops
GM crops may have an indirect effect on food safety and food security. The Government needs to clarify its stand in the context of GM foods. It needs to state in an unequivocal manner, that social security and environmental safety are inherently integral to the concept of food security.
Retain the functionality of the Agricultural Produce Marketing Act
The Public Distribution System accrues two benefits, one to the beneficiary and the other to the farmer. The Agricultural Produce Marketing Act provides an architecture to the mandi system in the country. The government should not restrict public procurement of foodgrains as it is known to trigger increase in agricultural production rates.
India should not agree to WTO enforcements on food security
India is under pressure from the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to bring down the subsidy on meeting the expenditure on PDS (procurement of foodgrains from farmers at Minimum Support Price) within the purview of regulatory sanctions and curtailed expenditure. The WTO had asked India to keep the subsidy under NFSA at a low level, so that its expenditure on public storage of food items does not exceed 10 percent of the total value of agriculture produce. India should not accept these demands as they are likely to impact the poor adversely.