June 1, 2013 by thejalebichronicles
Malice in Wonderland: Scorn for mainstream information that will shatter the image of Wonderland that we all have of the world.
Irrespective of our standards (or bank balances,) all of us need food. This need is not an altruistic desire, but requirement necessity for survival. As time has passed, society has gradually assumed that proper nutrition is a right, but ironically, has almost never sought to codify it as a legislation recalling the recentness of India’s independence and the newness of our policies, we as Indians stand at the precipice of history as the Food Security Bill nears passage in the Indian Parliament. For the first time in our history, we stand to gain the incorrectly euphemised ‘Right to Food’. Here’s what’s in it for you.
The National Food Security Bill aims “to provide for food and nutritional security in human life cycle approach, by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices to people to live a life with dignity and for matters connected therewith and incidental thereto” (sic) or, in simpler terms, it intends to make available food to everyone who cannot afford it at minimal price. Mind you, food in this case refers to grains (wheat, rice and millets). The bill shall be implemented after due parliamentary and executive process (passage in parliament, approval by President and notification in the Gazette)
How did the concept arise?, It started when concerned Indian citizens (notably, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties) noted a glaring paradox in India. Our grain production was rising at an exponential rate, resulting in overflowing granaries every year. However, malnutrition and hunger were two problems that were worsening every day. Appalled by this misuse of resources, a writ petition filed in the Supreme Court led to the development of this bill.
The Bill aims to guarantee cheap access to food for nearly 67% of India’s population (75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population) by classifying them into two groups namely ‘Priority’ and ‘Antyodaya’ households, where the latter are families identified as “poorest of the poor” by a scheme launched by the government in 2000.
According to this bill, ‘Priority’ families are entitled to five kgs of food grains per member and the ‘Antyodaya’ families are entitled to 35 kgs of food grains per household at the rates of Rs.3 per Kg of rice, Rs.2 per Kg of wheat and Rs.1 per Kg of millet. Also, this bill repackages the same old; Public Distribution System, (PDS) to guarantee better efficiency and transparency. It seems almost too good to be true, doesn’t it? No, I don’t think so, either. Although I respect the ulterior motives displayed in the enactment of this bill, let me explain why everything that glitters isn’t gold.
Now if you’re reading this article on your computer, tablet or mobile phone, you probably won’t be affected by the enactment of this bill. So why is everyone talking about it? Well, the answer is multi-fold, dealing with political, social, nutritional and economic implications.
The Economical Angle
The Food Security Bill will raise the government’s expense by about 9,000 crore rupees. At present, when the economy is sluggish and the government is trying its best to reduce the fiscal deficit, this expense is merely a burden on the exchequer.
The Nutritional and Social Angle
Although the bill can satisfactorily combat hunger, it does not deal with the problems of malnutrition. Nutrition and hunger are two inextricably linked factors that cannot be separated, as removal of hunger is an integral part of nutrition management. Yet the bill only talks about one while ignoring the other.
At the same time, a disparity is created amongst the populace as the right is not universal (a person who does not fall in either of these categories will have to buy these grains at market prices). This will lead to further corruption in an already rickety PDS. When compared to a few state-level legislations as in Chhattisgarh and Tamilnadu, (where access is guaranteed to nearly 90% of the population at universal rates), the UPA endorsed bill seems like the junk paper we scribble on.
The Political Angle
The Food Security Bill is seen by many as a defense manoeuvre by the government to tide over difficult times. Food Security was a promise made by the UPA during its 2009 election campaign and with the next general elections around the corner, the bill the perfect way to avert the public gaze from all the deficiencies of the government including corruption, scams, ill governance, etc . Also, the fact that the opposition ruled states have passed better legislations on the same agenda and the central government fails to even accommodate their suggestions is a clearer indicator of this. To back up their claims, certain economists have expressed their favour for the bill, but what remains unpublicised is that for every economist in favour of the bill, there are as many who oppose it.
The Food Security Bill is a great measure on its outset but when we factor in the political timing, PDS inconsistencies, leaky distribution terms, economical ramifications, its fiscal impact and other factors, it is bound to be a disastrous service and the damage done will take decades to be rectified. So, to the UPA government, all I say is “Thanks, but no thanks.”
– Siddharth Gupta