The National Food Security Bill, 2013 was passed and ratified by both the houses of the parliament. The bill envisages ensuring food security to 67% of the Indian population, excluding 50% in urban area and 25% in rural areas.
The bill divides the whole Indians into three categories: the Anna Antyodaya Yojana Households who will continue to get 35kg of food grains under the present scheme also, the priority households entitled to 5kg of rice, wheat and cereals at Rs.5,3 and 2/- respectively or 25kg for an average family of five and the exclusionary households without any benefits.
The bill has also brought a spate of furor into the public domain along with it. The gist of dissent against the bill is the very core of the policy, the targeted public distribution scheme.
The clamor to universalize the scheme was on the premise of past hindsight where the much intended beneficiaries got excluded from the scheme due to large scale corruption and aberration in delineating the beneficiary groups.
The entitlements on a per capita basis rather than on per family household basis will strike the families with less than 5 persons hard.
Also the bill is in clear violation of a Supreme Court judgment to give not less than 35kg a month to all the Below poverty Line (BPL) households and the ruling of Indian Council for Medical Research prescribing not less than 14kg a month to an adult and 7kg a month to a child.
The bill does not include any nutritional standards thereby avoiding nutrient groups like pulses, vegetables, fruits etc. The lack of mention of community kitchens, free meals to the destitute etc is highly conspicuous.
The bill has also been earmarked 'anti-farmer' as the State procures the food grains from the farmers directly on such a large scale which excludes them from other private markets where they could get a higher price for their produce.
The Minimum Support Price provided to the farmers though will help them in times of distress like during drought, floods etc, it would have adverse ramifications at normal times of produce.
Also the excluded category is though less in percentage terms it would actually amount to lakhs in absolute numbers. The current environ in the cities shows us that a large population living in the cities are unemployed and even if employed are in the unorganized sector. About half of the population being excluded in urban areas has left the 'urban-poor' in consternation.
It is conclusive that all the matters mentioned above have to be dealt with at the earliest and thus a whole revamp of the program has to be implemented.
However keeping aside the all these concerns the bill is more than a political gimmick for a country like ours. Even today a substantial amount of our population still goes to sleep on an empty stomach and India ranks number one in the number of growth stunted children in the world.
It is high time that we pay our unflagging attention to the socially excluded and starving population in our country.
India spends about 0.9% of its GDP as food subsidies one of the lowest in Asia and this bill envisages it to raise it to a meager 1.25%, still lower than other fast developing nations in Asia.
Social security to the citizens of a highly lauded democratic nation like ours cannot be calculated in mere monetary terms. The subsidies for ensuring food security should be considered supremely inevitable and the surplus would just have to balanced somewhere like implying cuts in humongous import subsidies bequeathed for oil, gold etc.
The 12th Five Year Plan has also taken steps to identify the beneficiaries of various schemes specific to each scheme. The Social and Economic Caste Census (SECC) is an integral part of this objective.
The SECC expected to submit its report by April 2014 discerns poverty as a multidimensional factor rather than on consumption expenditure terms alone.
It measures the various facets of poverty in terms of deprivations like lack of a pucca house, identifying physically disabled persons etc.
In addition nutritional poverty can be identified from the results of National Family Health Survey. With the help of all these, an effective list of the beneficiaries can be conclusively derived and the effective implementation of the scheme with acute cooperation between the Centre and the States is sure to make the program a flagship program in the country.