The issues related to the Draft National Food Security Bill approved by the National Advisory Council (NAC) were taken up for discussion by the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) in their meeting on 11th July, 2011 which approved it. The Bill has to be now ratified by the parliament where it is proposed to be introduced in December 2011 to become law. It would need about 61 million tonnes of grains a year, the bulk of which would be wheat and rice.
The EGoM tried to settle the differences between the views of the NAC and the Food Ministry on the contours of the legislation such as on coverage under the Bill, method to be adopted to ensure food security, amount of food grain required and the implication of the Act on the food subsidy ‘burden’. While the NAC had preferred legal entitlement to subsidised foodgrain for 90 per cent of rural population and 50 per cent of urban population, the Food Ministry was interested in lowering of the legal coverage for rural families. The Bill is now with the Law Ministry.
The initiative for the bill can be traced to the year 2001 when the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) Rajasthan filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court against the Food Corporation of India, the Government of India, and some state governments. Their contention was that the right to food was a fundamental right under “the right to life” provided by Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The Supreme Court had appointed two Commissioners in 2002 for the purpose of monitoring the implementation of the interim orders, and they have given detailed recommendations in this regard.
The Supreme Court has in the last decade issued several interim orders in the case relating to the conversion of eight centrally sponsored schemes into legal entitlements, such as –
- Public Distribution System (PDS) - BPL families are entitled to 35 kg of foodgrains at a subsidised price;
- Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) - Six priority groups have been identified who are entitled to the Antyodaya card. The card entitles the people to 35 kg of grain per month, at Rs 2/kg for wheat and Rs 3/kg for rice;
- Mid-Day Meals Scheme - State governments are to implement the Mid-Day Meals scheme by providing every child in government schools and government assisted primary schools with a prepared mid-day-meal with a minimum content of 300 calories and 8-12 grams of protein each day of school for a minimum of 200 days; and
- Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS).
The NAC in July 2010 constituted a Working Group of Members on the National Food Security Bill with the idea of addressing the nutritional deficiencies in the population. Wide ranging consultations were held following which the basic framework of the draft Bill was finalized in October 2010 and communicated to the Government.
The Rangarajan Committee (Expert Committee) set up by the Prime Minister shortly after this was of the view that the NAC recommendations would be difficult to implement owing to lack of availability of food grains and huge subsidy implications. It recommended restriction of entitlements of Rs 2/kg for wheat and Rs 3/kg for rice to households falling below the Tendulkar Committee poverty line plus 10 per cent of the BPL population. In percentage terms this amounted to about 48 per cent of the rural and 28 per cent of the urban population, nearly the same as the NAC categorisation for priority households.
However, the NAC objected to the Rangarajan Committee recommendations and took upon itself the task of preparing the Draft Bill. This was put up on the NAC website on June 3, 2011 and public feedback sought till June 12, 2011. Criticism of this Bill was from those who favoured reform of PDS through reduced government intervention in procuring, storing and distributing food grains. Alternate models of subsidy delivery such as direct cash transfers or food stamps were suggested as being less prone to corruption. NAC opposed these views on the grounds that food entitlement was better because it was inflation proof and as it gets consumed more wisely than cash, which can be easily mis-spent.
Based on the feedback, the NAC in its meeting held on 22 June, 2011, finalized the National Food Security Bill, 2011. The key features of the Bill are -
- The Draft National Food Security Bill aims to ensure public provisioning of food and related measures to enable assured economic and social access to adequate food, for all persons in the country, at all times, in pursuance of their fundamental right to live with dignity.
- Legal entitlements to subsidised food grains should be extended to at least 75 per cent of the population - 90 per cent in rural areas and 50 per cent in urban areas.
- The State Government shall, based on the criteria notified by the Central Government identify households known as the Priority households and General households and issue to them appropriate Ration Cards to enable them to receive food grains at the rates applicable to them.
- The State Government shall provide Priority Households whether Rural or Urban a minimum of 7 kilograms of food grains per person per month, at a price not exceeding Rs 3 per kg for rice, Rs 2 per kg for wheat and Rs 1 per kg for millets at 2011-11 rates, which will not be revised upward for a minimum period of 10 years from the date of notification of the Act.
- The State Government shall provide General Households whether Rural or Urban a minimum of 4 kilograms of food grains per person per month, at a price not exceeding 50 per cent of the Minimum Support Price for paddy, wheat and millets,.
- According to the bill, 46 per cent of the rural and 28 per cent of urban households categorised as 'priority group' and 49 per cent of the rural and 22 per cent of urban households categorised as 'general group'.
- Food security and the obligations created under this Act of appropriate governments, shall be based on access to adequate and appropriate food throughout the life cycle of a human being from pregnancy to old age so as to ensure a healthy body and mind.
- The draft bill introduces a number of other universal guarantees, including nutrition support and maternity entitlements for pregnant women, nutrition support to children both in pre-school centres and in school, but also to all out of school children; destitute feeding and affordable meals for homeless and other needy urban populations; and special guarantees for starvation and emergencies.
- It creates a strong accountability framework for protection of these entitlements and allows imposition of fines on defaulters and compensation to the victim. It also envisages a strong grievance redressal and monitoring system, from the centre to the block level.
- The Central Government shall constitute a body known as the National Food Commission, to exercise the powers and perform the functions assigned to it under the Act. Furthermore, the State Government too shall constitute a body known as the State Food Commission to exercise the powers and perform the functions assigned to it under this Act.
Constitution of National Social Security Fund for Unorganised Sector Workers
The Union Cabinet has in a meeting on 22nd July 2011 approved the constitution and operation of a National Social Security Fund for unorganised workers with an initial allocation of Rs. 1000 crore to support schemes for weavers, toddy tappers, rickshaw pullers, beedi workers etc. This follows the announcement made by the Finance Minister in his budget speech for 2010-11. This fund will support social security schemes for various segments of unorganised workers as most of these workers (around 433 million) do not have any social security cover in the form of life and disability insurance, health care and pensions. The Ministry of Labour & Employment will be the nodal Ministry for the operation of the Fund.
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