Giving right to food is not enough to deliver food, say speakers at a conference on food security
Agriculture scientist M S Swaminathan has called for setting up a body headed by the prime minister for effective execution of the National Food Security Bill (NFSB) once it is enacted. All chief ministers should be members of this board, he added.
NFSB was cleared by the Union Cabinet and introduced in Parliament in the last winter session on December 26. The bill seeks to address widespread hunger in the country through food support programmes and provides eligible beneficiaries the legal right to receive foodgrains at subsidised prices. The proposed law would ensure food to over 63.5 per cent population of the country.
“India is on the threshold of a transition from a “ship-to-mouth” existence as it implements the world’s largest social protection programme against hunger with homegrown food,” Swaminathan said while addressing a conference on food security organised by Bharat Krishak Samaj, a farmers’ outfit. The agriculture scientist stressed on forming a national foodgrains post harvesting board for better storage and movement of the grains.
In the conference, the speakers also emphasised on the need to stabilise farm income so that agriculture becomes economically viable. “At the moment, given the high risks and low returns, there's little inducement for rural youth to take up agriculture as a profession. This will have serious long-term implications for food security,” said Ajay Jakhar, chairman of Bharat Krishak Samaj.
Relook at MSP regime needed
Biraj Patnaik, advisor to the Commissioners to the Supreme Court in the Right to Food case, expressed regret that the government had not seen merit in making minimum support price (MSP), a legally tenable right. “There are structural problems in India's food economy. The current system based on MSPs and high levels of food subsidy is basically income support transfer to farmers. The farmer sells his produce to the government at a higher price and gets it back at a subsidised rate,” he said. High levels of subsidy, he added, affected the farm sector adversely. “Ask farmers in any state where cheap food has been provided for more than three years, if conditions have improved. They haven’t”, said Patnaik.
Former Food Corporation of India (FCI) chairperson Alok Sinha said the government’s dominant role in the market is one of the reasons why there is an adverse impact on foodgrain prices. “By mopping up the bulk of surplus, FCI drove up open market price,” said Sinha who was supported by FCI’s executive director Sushil Nagpal. He said that a level-playing field should be provided for private trade too and there is a need to relook at the MSP regime. FCI is currently procuring 80 million tonnes of foodgrains whereas offtake from the states is not more than 57 million tonnes. This includes the 37 million tonnes procured in the current year.
Former chairman of Commission on Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), T Haque, made a strong case for export of foodgrains. He pointed out that if the public distribution system is incapable of delivering food to beneficiaries and stocks are piling up, exports should be permitted. “Just by giving the right to food you cannot deliver food. You could not even implement targeted PDS”, he added.
According to the speakers, there are six issues that need to be resolved to sustain the proposed food security law that will put enormous financial burden on state governments. These are: the scope of legal entitlements; the quantum of entitlements, the definition of poverty; the methodology for identifying the poor; the mode and modality of the distribution system; changes in productivity and sustainable production.