Budget needs to protect food security

Budgetary support needs to be upped for the implementation of the public distribution system entitlements under the National Food Security Act.
Children at an anganwadi centre, Mysore waiting for the mid-day meal Children at an anganwadi centre, Mysore waiting for the mid-day meal

With the budget 2016-17 round the corner what are the asks from the standpoint of food security? This year’s budget is being prepared in the wake of many parts of the country being affected by drought resulting in greater distress, hunger and starvation for a large number of people. It has been over two years since the National Food Security Act (NFSA) was passed and only recently has it begun to be implemented with seriousness in many states of the country. The NFSA aims to provide legal rights on subsidised foodgrains to 63.5 percent of the population but a lot remains to be done as regards full implementation of the act.

What should be done to improve its delivery? Should the concerns of food security be more broad-based? Should there be special agricultural and drought packages? Should the government provide adequate funds for implementation of the NFSA? A National Convention on the Union Budget 2015-16 by the Ministry of Finance at New Delhi dealt with these issues. Right to Food Campaign’s submission at the convention held on January 12, 2016 sets down the budget asks related to food and nutrition security. 

National Food Security Act – Public Distribution System

  • Provide the entire budget required for the implementation of the Public Distribution System (PDS) entitlements under the NFSA.
  • Although millets are included in the NFSA entitlements as an option, they are not being provided in most places. The budget must make adequate provisions for procurement of millets and its distribution at Re.1 a kg as stipulated in the Act through the PDS.
  • With the increasing prices of pulses, its consumption, which was already low among people, has further decreased. Pulses are an important source of protein in our country, hence must be included in the PDS at subsidised prices.
  • The pilot initiatives of introducing cash transfers in the PDS in the three Union Territories are all showing serious problems in implementation. The proposed pilot in Dadra and Nagar Haveli has not even managed to take off. Based on this experience, the government must take a pause and work towards strengthening the PDS rather than putting undue focus on Direct Benefit Transfers.
  • The PDS control order 2015 initially proposed to phase out the Antodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) but following protests, has been amended to restore the AAY. However, in a number states (e.g. Odisha, Delhi, Rajasthan) the number of AAY cards has come down drastically and new households are not being provided AAY cards. This budget should announce that the AAY will continue and make adequate allocations for the same based on the projected populations for the year 2016.

Mean per capita consumption of calories, protein and fats per day

Agricultural packages

  • Budgets are needed to support labour costs and input costs for subsistence food-producing farmers targeting women farmers.
  • Provision must be made for the coverage of small and marginal farmers, lease holders and share croppers for Kisan Credit Cards.
  • Registration of women farmers, agricultural labour and salt pan harvesters for social security and access to agricultural support must be ensured.

Special drought package

The government must announce a special package for all drought-affected districts. This must include the following:

  • Announce universal coverage of PDS with NFSA entitlements in drought affected areas for one year, or a minimum of at least six months.
  • Include in drought affected areas at least 2 kgs of dal and 5 kgs of edible oil at subsidised prices as part of the monthly PDS entitlements.
  • Care should be taken to cover all vulnerable households with AAY cards, including all Musahar households, households headed by single women, and households of disabled persons and old people living alone.
  • Ensure that all affected villages begin National Rural Employment Guarantee Act works, and are geared to undertake 150 days wage work for every household, with wages paid within one fortnight at the most after the works.
  • School meals should be provided in all schools even during holidays, with inclusion of one egg for every child daily in addition to current entitlements of a nutritious hot cooked meal.
  • Emergency feeding on the Kalahandi Bolangir Koraput (KBK) pattern should be provided in all schools for any destitute and aged persons, and all pregnant and lactating women who seek a meal when the mid-day meal is served.
  • A drive should be undertaken to ensure that there is at least one functional hand-pump for drinking water in every hamlet. In case there are villages or hamlets without hand-pumps, arrangements should be made urgently for water camps.
  • Fodder requirements should be assessed, and fodder banks created in every village, as well as sufficient numbers of cattle-camps for starving and abandoned cattle.
  • Loans taken for current crop which is destroyed should be written off, as also the interest on older loans, and the repayment schedule restructured to enable loan repayment in coming years in ways that do not become intolerable for the farmers reeling under drought.
  • Firm measures should be taken against private money-lenders who use open or tacit force to recover their illegal and usurious loans.

The full submission by Right to Food Campaign is attached below.

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