National Food Security Bill, 2013 : Ordinance signed, yet to be enacted.

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National Food Security Bill,proposed by National Advisory Council (NAC) and Ministry of Rural Development(MoRD), has been introduced 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 or incidental thereto.

The salient features of the bill, as has been laid given by NAC :

  1. Legal entitlements to subsidized food grains to be extended to atleast 75% of the country’s population  ( 90% to the rural areas and 50% to the urban areas)
  2. Priority households (46% in the rural areas and 28% in the urban areas) to have monthly entitlements of 35kgs (equivalent to 7kg/persons) at a subsidizes price of Rs.1 per kg for millets, Rs.2 per kg for wheat and Rs.3 per kg for rice.
  3. General households to have a monthly entitlement of 20kgs (for eg- 4kgs per person) at a price not exceeding 50% of the current Minimum Support Price for millets,  rice and wheat.
  4. The minimum coverage, entitlement and price to remain unchanged until the end of the XII five year plan.
  5. Government of India to specify the criteria for categorization of population into priority and general households.
  6. In the First Phase, food entitlement to be extended to 72% of the population .In the Final Phase which is expected to be completed before March 31, 2014, full coverage of food entitlement , to 75% of the population, to be ensured.
  7. Legal entitlement for child and maternal nutrition, destitute and other vulnerable group.
  8. Reforming the Public Distribution System.

Smt.Sonia Gandhi , Chairperson of NAC, in 2010 forwarded the basic framework of the NFSB to the Prime Minister and also suggested a close examination of the proposal of Ministry of Rural Development to replace the existing BPL survey with a socio-economic census/survey to be conducted by the Registrar  General and Census Commission of India. Accordingly, on the order of the PM an Expert Committee was set up under the chairmanship of  Dr. C. Rangarajan to examine the implications of the proposal and thereby to make necessary recommendations.

The Expert Committee had found the following major operational issues that need to be resolved to attain the goals of the bill:

  1. Given the current trends of food grains production and govt. procurement and the likely improvements in these overtime , will there be adequate availability of grain with the public authorities to implement the full entitle for the priority and the general category as proposed in the NFSB.
  2. What will be the impact of such large govt. food grain procurement on the open market prices? This is relevant since both the priority .
  3. General category will be purchasing part of their consumption needs from the open market.
  4. What are the subsidy implications for both the phases and can these be sustained in the future?
  5. Arriving at a clear definition of priority by general households and the methodology of identification of these households especially the feasibility of involving the registrar general of India and the Census Commissioner in this task.
  6. Given the efficiencies and leakage in the current distribution system, identify the principal areas of reform of the principal areas of reform of the PDS and the alternative mechanisms of reaching the food grain/ subsidy to the enlisted households.

The Expert Committee also recommended that the entitled population may be defined as the percentage of population below the official poverty line + 10% of the BPL population and using the Tendulkar poverty line, it was estimated to be 46% rural population and 28% urban population , same as that has been categorized by the NAC as the priority households. By this not only the poor but also the marginal classes would be covered which is the actual objective of the NFSB.     

According to Global Hunger Index , 22% of the total population of India is undernourished while on the other hand as per National Family Health Survey 2005-06, 40% of children below the age of 3yrs are underweight, 78.9%  of children aged between 6 to 35 months are anaemic and 33% of the women (15-49yrs) have a body mass index below normal.

Therefore , the National Food Security Bill is perhaps the most significant effort to deal with these deficiencies which are yet to be addressed.

Hence the ordinance on Food security has been signed by the President last week to guarantee 5 kg of rice, wheat and coarse cereals per month per person at a fixed price of Rs. 3, 2, 1, respectively.

  • Under the Ordinance, the list of beneficiaries would be prepared by the state governments.
  • Other major highlights of the the Food Security Ordinance are Rs. 6,000 as maternity benefit and home ration or hot cooked food for children in the age group of 6 months to 14 years.
  • The eldest woman will be Head of the household for issue of ration card. If not available, the eldest male member will then be the head of the household for these purposes.
  • The other provisions of the Ordinance include providing central funds to states in case of short supply of food grains in case of natural calamity. The Centre would also provide assistance to states towards cost of transportation, handling of food grains and FPS dealers’ margin.
  • However, about 2.43 crore poorest of the poor families covered under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) scheme under PDS (Public Distribution System) would continue to get 35 kg of food grains per family per month but with legal entitlement.
  • The ordinance seeks to confer the right to food to a larger section of population, ensure allocation of sufficient food grains on regulator basis under PDS and enable state governments to handle unforeseen situation caused by drought and other natural calamities.
  • Most importantly, the state and district level redressal mechanism will be set up to ensure transparency and accountability. A penalty will be imposed on public servants or authority, if found guilty of failing to comply with the relief recommended by the District Grievance Redressal Officer.

The Food Security programme will be the biggest in the world with the government spending estimated at Rs 125,000 crore annually on supply of about 62 million tonnes of rice, wheat and coarse cereals to 67 per cent of the population.

At present,

  • Centre supplies 35 kg of food grains to BPL/AAY families and atleast 15 kg to APL families.
  • Wheat is supplied at Rs. 2/kg for AAY, while BPL gets wheat at Rs 4.15/kg and APL at Rs 6.10/kg. Rice is given at Rs. 3/kg to AAY, Rs. 5.65/kg to BPL and Rs. 8.30/kg to APL.
  • There are currently 6.52 crore BPL familes, which include 2.43 crore AAY families. The number of APL families are 11.5 crore.

The Chairman of Commission for Agriculture Costs and Prices (CACP) feels that at present the ordinance can be a blessing in disguise as there is huge foodgrains stock with the government but how far it will remain sustainable unless PDS is fixed, production is stabilised and investment is made in storage and transportation are issue that needs to be factored in.

 

 

Sources:

http://www.thehindu.com/multimedia/archive/01404/National_Food_Secu_1404268a.pdf (the NFS bill, 2013)

http://eac.gov.in/reports/rep_NFSB.pdf  ( the detailed report given by the expert committee on the NFSB)

http://zeenews.india.com/news/nation/president-signs-ordinance-on-food-security-bill_860092.html (the views that has been given on the bill)