Why the Parliament should reject the standing committee’s recommendations on the Food Security Bill: RTFC
This statement was put out by the RIGHT TO FOOD CAMPAIGN on 24 January
The much awaited recommendations of the Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution on the National Food Security Bill are a letdown to those who wrote to the Committee urging it to ensure justice to the people of India. The Committee despite taking a year since December 2011 when the Bill was tabled in the Lok Sabha, has undermined the goal of food security for all the people of India through its recommendations given to the Parliament on 17 January, 2013. Instead of moving forward, the Committee’s recommendations are a leap backward by removing even existing entitlements. If the Committee’s recommendations are to be legislated, then it is the Campaign’s reasoned position that it rather not have a food security law rather than accept one which:
Undermines the food rights of children and pregnant and lactating women by not guaranteeing them the ICDS services through anganwadis.
Leaves out a large proportion of the population from the PDS by not universalising it and provisioning for only 5kg of foodgrains per person, which is about half of what is required on an average in a month according to the ICMR norms (less than half for people engaged in moderate to hard physical labour).
Excludes vulnerable groups such as the homeless and destitute people from accessing affordable/free nutritious hot cooked meals by not provisioning for community kitchens under the garb that it is difficult to identify the beneficiaries.
Leaves out pensions for the aged, persons with disabilities and single women from the recommendations, although it is well known that pensions are a crucial guarantee for the vulnerable to buy food.
Does not guarantee good nutrition by excluding legal guarantees to pulses and oil in the PDS
Does not guarantee Minimum Support Price (MSP) as a right or any other incentive and protection to farmers growing food.
Does not ensure access to safe food through legal safeguards against Genetically Modified (GM) foods whose adverse impacts on health and environment are becoming increasingly evident.
Does not put legal bans on entry of contractors in the supply of food for children or replacement of PDS with cash transfers, both of which will end food security for most people.
Does not provide for criminal penalties or independent grievance redressal systems.
Dilutes the legal guarantees given by the Supreme Court in the “right to food” case (PUCL vs. Union of India & Ors. CWP 196/2001) over the last 11 years which lay the framework for schemes providing food security in the country and convert provisions of these schemes into legal entitlements.
The Campaign however, would like to acknowledge the Committee’s recognition of the failure of targeting by recommending removal of the new avatar of the APL-BPL categories called “priority” and “general”, and proposing uniform entitlements for all included in the PDS and extending midday meals to children up to 16 years of age and nutrition support for adolescent girls.
The Campaign’s detailed arguments for opposing the following recommendations of the Committee:
1. Obliteration of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) as a legal guarantee
It is shocking to learn that the Committee completely obliterated legal guarantees to the ICDS and anganwadis on grounds of programmatic and operational gaps in the scheme. This undermines the Supreme Court orders and the advise of hundreds of experts and campaigns that wrote to the Committee on the importance of universalising the ICDS services of supplementary nutrition, immunization, health check-up, referral services, pre-school non-formal education and nutrition and health education delivered through anganwadis, for ensuring good health and nutrition of children below six years of age and pregnant and lactating women. This recommendation of the Committee completely short-changes the rights of young children, who in fact must be the focus of a food security Bill. It is widely accepted that to tackle malnutrition, interventions must focus on children, especially those in the age group of less than two years.
Similarly, recommending one meal a day to be provided in schools for children in the age group of 2 to 16 years of age “or the age at which they start school”, will effectively leave out children in the 2 to 6 years age group as entry in government schools begins only at 6 years of age.
2. Restricting maternity benefits to the first two children to ensure population stabilisation
This discriminates against children of higher birth order. It is now widely recognised that such disincentives do not contribute to population stabilisation and only violate the rights of women and children. India’s fertility rate has been steadily declining and anyway approaching the level of population stabilisation. Maternity benefits are wage compensation and hence need to equal at least the minimum wage and be inflation indexed. However, the Committee makes no mention of this.
3. Silence on support for breastfeeding
Exclusive breastfeeding till six months of age and continued breastfeeding till two years of age are crucial for preventing undernutrition among infants. This in turn requires support in the form of nutritional counselling, crèches at workplace etc. However, the Committee does not recommend any of these crucial entitlements.
Monthly entitlements of 5kg of cereals per person to only 67 per cent of the population (75 per cent in rural areas and 50 per cent in urban areas)
This excludes a large proportion of the country’s population from the right to access subsidised foodgrains under PDS. By setting “caps” on coverage, the Committee is continuing with targeting, which has proven to be divisive, unreliable and impractical. The Right to Food Campaign and many others have therefore been demanding that the PDS must be universalised. At the most, some simple, transparent and easily verifiable exclusion criteria (as done in the Chhattisgarh Food Security Act) can be specified, without any pre-determined quotas.
Monthly quotas of 5kg of foodgrains per person (which is about 25kg per household) is much less than the Supreme Court order of 35kg of foodgrains per household per month, which is the quantity that BPL and Antyodaya cardholders of several states are currently entitled to. The quota of foodgrains under the PDS must be based on ICMR norms on Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), which recommend monthly cereal consumption of 14kg per adult and 7kg per child on an average, working out to about 10 kg per capita, per household.
No legal guarantee to provision of pulses, oil and sugar in the PDS, decentralised procurement, greater investment in agriculture to guarantee farmers easy access to credit, extension services, protection against crop failure and remunerative MSPs which take into account all input costs of production.
Absence of legal guarantees to pulses, oil, sugar etc will fail to ensure good nutrition for all as the prohibitive prices of these food items prevent a very large proportion of the Indian population from accessing them. Justiciable guarantees to revitalise agriculture are crucial for ensuring sustainable supply of adequate quantities of food.
The recommendation of providing fortified foodgrains and atta (flour) under the PDS opens the door for commercialization of both agriculture and the food system, as fortification of foodgrains is possible only through genetic engineering.
Fortification will also fail to meet its intended objective of reducing micronutrient deficiencies in the Indian population, given the current levels of protein intake in the country. Fortified foodgrains and atta have shown a rise in the levels of ferritin (an iron form) in blood levels, which does not get converted into haemoglobin or lead to reduction in anaemia in the absence of adequate intke of protein. Fortification can reduce anaemia levels only in those who are able to eat at least three meals a day, and not in those who are unable to meet even the RDA of calories and protein; which is the case with most Indians.
6. Removing the entitlement to affordable/free nutritious hot cooked meals through community kitchens for the destitute, homeless, migrants and other vulnerable groups on grounds of difficulties in identification of beneficiaries.
This recommendation will lead to a gross violation of the right to food of those disadvantaged groups that are unable to cook their own meals.
7. Complete silence on pensions for the aged, single women, persons with disabilities and persons with debilitating illnesses
This will deny disadvantaged groups the means required for buying food.
8. Absence of a strong and independent grievance redressal mechanism and civil and criminal liabilities for non-compliance and denial of guarantees.
This will lead to gross violations of entitlements under the Bill. Given the history of governance and legislation in India, the Campaign is of the firm view that no law should be legislated without effective implementation mechanism.
9. Lack of safeguards against the replacement of PDS with cash transfers.
The PDS is the backbone of food security in India and introducing any a cash component in it would severely undermine most people’s food security, particularly of the poor and other vulnerable groups. The Campaign rejects the cash for food scheme of Annashree in Delhi and the cash for kerosene pilot in Kotkasim, Rajasthan. Several states have succeeded in reducing leakages in the PDS by implementing reforms such as universalisation of coverage, computerisation of lists of cardholders, doorstep delivery of rations till the Fair Price Shops and de-privatisation of these shops.
Although the Committee states that as of now introducing cash transfers in food is undesirable as the banking infrastructure is inadequate in the country, it is the Campaign’s considered opinion that cash transfers must not be introduced in PDS even if the banking system is more widespread and accessible.
The banking system needs to be made more accessible and efficient for cash payments schemes like pensions, scholarships and wages under MGNREGA. To that extent the Campaign welcomes the Committee’s recommendation to expand the banking infrastructure, especially in areas where it is sorely lacking. The bank accounts however must not be linked with Aadhar/UID.
The Right to food campaign urges the Government and all members of the Parliament and political parties to take a critical view of the Standing Committee’s recommendations on the National Food Security Bill, and reject them. The need of the hour is to legislate a comprehensive Act that truly contributes to food security for all. The National Food Security Bill is a crucial opportunity to end hunger and malnutrition in India and we hope that this will not be missed. The Right to Food Campaign will continue to mobilise support and protest against a Bill that is so piecemeal in its approach.
The Steering Committee of the Right to Food Campaign
Annie Raja (National Federation for Indian Women), Anuradha Talwar and Gautam Modi (New Trade Union Initiative), Arun Gupta and Radha Holla (Breast Feeding Promotion Network of India), Arundhati Dhuru and Ulka Mahajan (National Alliance of People’s Movements), Asha Mishra and Vinod Raina (Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti), Aruna Roy, Anjali Bharadwaj and Nikhil Dey (National Campaign for People’s Right to Information), Ashok Bharti (National Conference of Dalit Organizations), Colin Gonsalves (Human Rights Law Network), G V Ramanjaneyulu (Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture), Kavita Srivastava and Binayak Sen (People’s Union for Civil Liberties), Lali Dhakar, Sarawasti Singh, Shilpa Dey and Radha Raghwal (National Forum for Single Women’s Rights), Mira Shiva (Jan Swasthya Abhiyan), Paul Divakar and Asha Kowtal (National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights), Prahlad Ray and Anand Malakar (Rashtriya Viklang Manch), Subhash Bhatnagar (National Campaign Committee for Unorganized Sector workers)
Veena Shatrugna, M Kodandram and Rama Melkote (Andhra Pradesh), Saito Basumaatary and Sunil Kaul (Assam), Rupesh (Bihar), Gangabhai and Sameer Garg (Chhattisgarh), Pushpa, Dharmender, Ramendra, Yogesh, Vimla and Sarita (Delhi), Sejal Dand and Sumitra Thakkar (Gujarat), Abhay Kumar and Clifton (Karnataka), Balram, Gurjeet Singh and James Herenj (Jharkhand), Sachin Jain (Madhya Pradesh), Mukta Srivastava and Suresh Sawant (Maharashtra), Tarun Bharatiya (Meghalaya), Chingmak Chang (Nagaland) Bidyut Mohanty and Raj Kishore Mishra, Vidhya Das, Manas Ranjan (Orissa), Ashok Khandelwal, Bhanwar Singh and Vijay Lakshmi (Rajasthan), V Suresh (Tamil Nadu), Bindu Singh (Uttar Pradesh), Fr. Jothi SJ and Mr. Saradindu Biswas (West Bengal)