Right to Food

Right to Food

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Recommendations made by the National Advisory Council (NAC) pertaining to the Right to Food Bill during its sixth meeting, http://www.nac.nic.in/press_releases/23_october%20_2010.pdf:  

1. The Sixth meeting of the National Advisory Council was chaired by Smt. Sonia Gandhi on 23rd October, 2010 at 2 Motilal Nehru Place, New Delhi.

2. Members who attended the meeting were Prof. M.S. Swaminathan, MP, Dr. Ram Dayal Munda, MP, Prof Narendra Jadhav, Prof. Pramod Tandon, Dr. Jean Dreze, Ms. Aruna Roy, Shri Madhav Gadgil, Shri N.C. Saxena, Dr. A.K. Shiva Kumar, Shri Deep Joshi, Ms. Farah Naqvi, Shri Harsh Mander and Ms. Anu Aga.

3. NAC discussed in detail the proposal of the Working Group on National Food Security Bill. Recognizing the need to address the problems of hunger and malnutrition, the NAC finalised its recommendations as follows:

• Legal entitlements to subsidised foodgrains should be extended to at least 75% of the country’s population – 90% in rural areas and 50% in urban areas.

• The priority households (46% in rural areas and 28% in urban areas) should have a monthly entitlement of 35 kgs (equivalent to 7 kgs. per person) at a subsidised price of Re. 1 per kg for millets, Rs. 2 for wheat and Rs.3 for rice. Rural coverage can be adjusted state-wise based on the Planning Commission’s 2004-5 poverty estimates.

• The general households (44% in rural areas and 22% in urban areas) should have a monthly entitlement of 20 kgs (equivalent to 4 kgs. per person) at a price not exceeding 50% of the current Minimum Support Price for millets, wheat and rice.

• The minimum coverage and entitlements as well as prices should remain unchanged at least until the end of the XII Five Year plan.

• Government of India should specify the criteria for categorisation of population into priority and general households.

• The NAC recommends that in the first phase, food entitlements should be extended to 85% of the rural population and 40% of the urban population. Full coverage of food entitlements as enumerated above should be extended to all by March 31, 2014.

• Other important components of the food security bill recommended by the NAC include legal entitlements for child and maternal nutrition (including nutrition programmes for pre-school children, pregnant and nursing mothers, maternity benefits and mid-day meals for school children) as well as for community kitchens and programmes for feeding destitute and vulnerable groups. For the new components programmes will need to be developed as soon as possible.

• For further advancing food and nutritional security, the NAC has recommended as enabling provisions, among other things, measures for revitalizing agriculture, diversifying the commodities available under the Public Distribution System (PDS), ensuring universal access to safe water and proper sanitation, universalizing primary health care, extending nutrition and health support to adolescent girls, strengthening the school health programme, the programme for Vitamin A, iodine and iron supplementation and the national programme for crèches.

• An essential aspect of the PDS reform should be to plug leakages and enhance accountability. The NAC is examining proposals for PDS reforms including (i) decentralised procurement and storage; (ii) de-privatization of PDS outlets; (iii) doorstep delivery of grain to PDS outlets; (iv) revision of PDS commissions; (v) Application of ICT including end-to-end computerization of the PDS (vi) full transparency of records (including pro-active disclosure, transaction-based MIS, right of immediate inspection, and mandatory social audits) (viii) use of Smart Cards and biometrics subject to successful pilots.

• The NAC Working Group on Food Security will draft the National Food Security Bill for consideration of the Council.

4. The NAC also discussed the practice of manual scavenging in the country and decided to recommend to the government as follows:

• The NAC is deeply distressed to observe that the shameful practice of manual scavenging persists in India, despite being outlawed. This practice involves entrapping women, men and even children only because of the accident of their birth, into a humiliating vocation of gathering human excreta from individual or community dry toilets with bare hands, brooms or metal scrapers. It is intolerable that this endures, and is the worst surviving symbol of untouchability. The persistence of dry latrines in various parts of the country violates of human dignity, the law and articles 14, 17, 21 and 23 of the Constitution.

• In 1993, Parliament passed the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, which declared the employment of scavengers or the construction of dry (non-flush) latrines to be an offence punishable with imprisonment for up to one year and a fine of two thousand rupees. But central, state and local governments have been very weak in implementing this law, and almost no one has been punished under this law in 17 years. Local bodies themselves routinely run dry toilets, and employ people of specific castes to clean these manually.

• One basic problem so far is that the effort has been viewed by governments more as an issue of sanitation, than of issue of human dignity as guaranteed to all citizens in the Preamble of the Constitution.

• The NAC urges the central government to coordinate with all state, local governments and also central government departments including the Railways, to ensure that this practice is fully abolished latest by the end of the 11th Plan period. This would require a) new survey in every state and UT, with wide public involvement, of remaining dry latrines and manual scavengers; b) demolition of all dry latrines; c) psycho-social and livelihood rehabilitation in modern marketable skills of all manual scavengers and their families; and d) special programme for education, including higher education and computer education of all children of manual scavengers. The Ministry of Social Justice should formulate 100% centrally sponsored scheme to support the rehabilitation initiatives. The law also needs to be amended to ensure shaper definitions of manual scavenging, and accountability of public officials who employ, or fail to prevent, manual scavenging.

• The NAC recommends that the implementation of this law should be monitored at the highest levels of the central and state governments.

The NAC will also monitor on a quarterly basis the progress in abolition of manual scavenging, in order to ensure the final end of this most degrading practice of caste discrimination.

• The next meeting of the NAC is scheduled to be held on 26th November 2010.

Reservations expressed by Prof. Jean Dreze on the recommendations made by the NAC:

Four months have passed since the National Advisory Council began work on the proposed National Food Security Act. Many NAC members have a strong commitment to this issue and worked hard to frame the Council’s food security proposals. Unfortunately, the NAC seems to be expected to work within constraints imposed by the government that do not leave scope for anything like what is required to address the problem of hunger and undernutrition in an effective manner. The final NFSA proposals are very disappointing and, on this matter, the NAC has failed in its basic purpose of imparting a new vision to social policy in India.

The NAC began its deliberations on a visionary note but later came under a lot of pressure to accommodate constraints imposed by the government. The final result is a minimalist proposal that misses many important elements of food security.

The PDS framework is very fragmented and fails to abolish the artificial and divisive distinction between APL and BPL households. It takes on board food procurement limits that reflect the government’s reluctance to expand the PDS more than objective constraints.

The non-PDS entitlements, for their part, have been diluted beyond recognition. Entire fields of intervention that are crucial for food security (such as child development services and old age pensions) have been left out of the final proposals.

An opportunity has been missed to initiate a radical departure in this field. The NAC proposals are a great victory for the government – they allow it to appear to be doing something radical for food security, but it is actually “more of the same”. 


National Food Security Act (draft), 2009

Promise of the United Progressive Alliance-II 

• Seeing the popularity of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), which helped the Congress to win the 2009 parliamentary elections, the newly constituted Government has thought of mentioning the Food Security Act within the first 100 days of its stay in the office for the second time.

• President Pratibha Patil on June 4, 2009 said that a National Food Security Act would be formulated whereby each below poverty line (BPL) family would be entitled by law to get 25 kg of rice or wheat per month at Rs 3/- per kg, a promise made by the Congress before general elections 2009. Many would agree that the proposal for a Food Security Bill has come at the right point of time when the world has already witnessed food crisis in 2008 that pushed millions of people to the brink of poverty and undernutrition.

• A concept note on the National Food Security Act was made available on 4 June, 2009 by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution. The concept note on National Food Security Act promises to ensure food security (by supplying a certain minimum quality of rice, wheat and coarse cereals) to the below poverty line (BPL) population residing in rural and urban areas. The number of BPL households would be fixed by the Central Government based on the recent poverty estimates of the Planning Commission (presently of 2004-05). As against the accepted number of 6.52 crore BPL cards, there exists 10.68 crore BPL cards by end of March, 2009. The above poverty line (APL) population will be excluded from the targeted public distribution system (TPDS) under the new Food Security Act. Based on the recent poverty estimates (2004-05) by Planning Commission, the number of BPL households will come down from 6.52 crore to 5.91 crore and the number of APL households will increase from 11.52 crore to 15.84 crore. Only 25 kg of foodgrains to each BPL household would be supplied at subsidized rates under the new law. The validity of the new BPL ration cards issued, based on the recent poverty estimates of the Planning Commission (2004-05), would be for 5 years, after which they will automatically expire. Multiplicity of food schemes would be abandoned under the new law, which means discontinuation of a number of food and nutrition related schemes. Presently the Government provides 277 lakh tonnes of foodgrains for below poverty line (BPL) and Antodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) categories, with a subsidy amounting to Rs. 37,000 crore. Under the new Act, the government would provide 251 lakh tons of foodgrains for BPL and AAY categories, with subsidy amounting to Rs. 40,380 crore (if 25 kg of rice or wheat per month is supplied to each BPL household at Rs 3/- a kg). Computerisation of TPDS would take place along with setting up of village grain banks and food security tribunals, according to the concept note.         

• The Budget Speech delivered by Minister of Finance Shri Pranab Mukherjee on 6 July, 2009 which stated that the United Progressive Alliance government was preparing a National Food Security Bill, confirmed that the Congress Party will deliver on its election promise of providing 25 kg of foodgrains per month, at Rs 3/- per kg, to every poor family

• A Group of Ministers was formed on 13 July, 2009 to examine the proposed National Food Security Act. The members of the group are: Pranab Mukherjee, Sharad Pawar, AK Anthony, P Chidambaram, Mamata Banerji, Dayanidhi Maran, Anand Sharma and CP Joshi (Dr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Planning Commission, is a special invitee)

Key features of the proposed Right to Food Act prepared by Prof. Jean Dreze and his team

• The Right to Food Act, which has been prepared by a team comprising of Prof. Jean Dreze, Harsh Mander, Biraj Patnaik, Reetika Khera and Dipa Sinha and was released on 24 June, 2009 proposes to consolidate, in law, entitlements that are currently in place through eight food and nutrition-related schemes. Most of these entitlements are already justifiable, based on Supreme Court orders in the “Right to Food” case, according to the authors of the proposed Act

• Below Poverty Line (BPL) households: All BPL households shall be entitled to 35 kg of foodgrain each month, at Rs 3/kg for rice and Rs 2/kg for wheat under the Public Distribution System. Each nuclear family shall be treated as a separate household. A new methodology for the BPL Census is being proposed, based on simple, transparent and verifiable criteria. For instance, in rural areas any household that meets any two simple inclusion criteria (such as landlessness and being SC/ST) shall be entitled to a BPL Card. Households meeting any of six “exclusion criteria” will not be entitled to BPL cards. Extensive transparency safeguards will also be introduced in the Public Distribution System (PDS)

• The proposed Act demands for continuation of existing food related schemes such as: Integrated Child Development Services, Mid-Day Meal Scheme, Public Distribution System, Antyodaya, National Maternity Benefit Scheme/ Janani Suraksha Yojana, National Social Assistance Programme, including Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme, Indira Gandhi National Widow Pension Scheme and Indira Gandhi National Disability Pension Scheme, National Family Benefit Scheme, and Rajiv Gandhi National Crèche Scheme. All the provisions in various such schemes have been elaborately discussed in the proposed Act

• The proposed Act has asked for severe penalties against individuals and organizations/ companies who are held responsible for violation of food safety norms and standards that affects the public. It has demanded severe punishment to those who push for baby food instead of breast milk

• The draft Right to Food Act has safeguards against encroachments by corporate lobbies and private contractors in food and nutrition related schemes


Demands for food entitlements by the civil society (released on 22 July, 2009)

• The Act must hold the government accountable to ensure that no man, women or child sleeps hungry or is malnourished.

• The Act must place an obligation on the government to encourage food production through sustainable and equitable means, and ensure adequate food availability in all locations at all times.

• The Act must incorporate and consolidate all entitlements currently existing under Supreme Court orders (Annexure 1) and existing schemes, especially:
* Hot, cooked, nutritious mid-day meals in all government and government-assisted schools.
* Provision of all ICDS services to all children below the age of six years.
* Antyodaya entitlements as a matter of right for “priority groups”.

• The Act must also create new entitlements for those who are excluded from existing schemes, including out-of-school children, the elderly and the infirm in need of daily care, migrant workers and their families, bonded labour families, the homeless, and the urban poor.

• The Act must not abridge but only expand other entitlements such as old age pensions, maternity entitlements and work entitlements under NREGA.

• The right to food of children in the age group of 0-6 month’s must be ensured through services to the mother, including support at birth; skilled counselling especially to promote breast feeding; maternity entitlements; and crèche facilities at the work place.

• The Act must create an obligation for governments to prevent and address chronic starvation, and reach food pro-actively to persons threatened with starvation.

• The Act must create provisions for governments to deal adequately with natural and human-made disasters and internal displacement, including by doubling all food entitlements for a period of at least one year in affected areas; and removing upper limits to person days of employment in NREGA.

• All residents of the country, excepting possible for categories specially excluded because of their wealth, must be covered by the Public Distribution System, with at least 35 kgs of cereals per household (or 7 kgs per person) per month at Rs. 3/kg for rice and Rs. 2/kg for wheat. Coarse grains should be made available through the PDS at subsidised rates, wherever people prefer these. In addition, extra provisions of subsidised oil and pulses should be made.

• Women must be regarded as head of the household for all food-related matters such as the distribution of ration cards.

• The Act must seek to eliminate all social discrimination in food-related matters, including discrimination against Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Most Backward Classes and minorities.

• Cash transfers must not replace food transfers under any nutrition-related scheme.

• The Act must include safeguards against the invasion of corporate interests and private contractors in food policy and nutrition-related schemes, especially where they affect food safety and child nutrition. In particular no GM food and hazardous or useless additives must be allowed in public nutrition programmes. Governments must not enter into any partnerships with the private sector where there is a conflict of interests.

• The Act must include strong, in-built independent institutions for accountability along with time-bound, grievance redressal provisions (including provisions for criminal prosecution), mandatory penalties for any violation of the Act and compensation for those whose entitlements have been denied. In particular, the Gram Sabha must have effective powers for grievance redressal and monitoring of food-related schemes.

• All programmes of food entitlements must have strong in-built transparency mechanisms, and mandatory requirements of social audit.

• Within the existing PDS system, the Act must provide for mandatory reforms such as de-privatisation of PDS shops, preferably to women’s groups, with sufficient capital and commissions for new owners; direct door step delivery of food items to the PDS shop; and computerisation, along with other measures for transparency.

• The Act must specify that no laws or policy shall be passed that adversely impact the enabling environment for the right to food.


Apprehensions about the new National Food Security Act (draft)

• If made into a law, the draft Food Security Bill (Government version) would reduce the allocation for a below poverty line (BPL) household (e.g. in the case of Antodaya Anna Yojana) from 35 kg of rice/ wheat per month to 25 kg of rice/ wheat per month. This would appear contradictory to many who expected the Bill to be a benign effort of the UPA-II to ensure food security.

• Instead of better implementation of the already existing schemes such as the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), Antodaya Anna Yojana (AAY), Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), Mid Day Meal Scheme (MDMS) etc., the Food Security law might make things unduly worse and unnecessarily complicated. A question here would be: Is the Food Security Bill going to replace all such food related schemes that existed before its enactment?  

• If the Bill is about ensuring food security, how can it leave those who may not fall below the poverty line but are already exposed to food insecurity? The Rome Declaration (1996) made during the World Food Summit states that ‘food security is achieved when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active life’. Food security is about nutrition security too. If that is the case, the Food Security Bill has to rethink about the quality of foodgrains supplied and distributed. The Food Security Bill must also aim at providing fortified foodgrains along with edible oils, salt and essential spices. A balanced diet would ensure both food and nutrition security. The basket of commodities, which would be available to the consumers, should reflect local tastes and preferences and must include locally grown cereals and legumes.  

• If targeting of BPL households is done under the Food Security Bill, then that would lead to inclusion (including the non-poor) and exclusion (excluding the poor) errors. It would be wiser to go for universalization (rather than targeting) as was recommended by the Committee on Long Term Grain Policy under the chairmanship of Prof. Abhijit Sen (2000-02).

• Is India ready to rely exclusively upon biotechnology and genetic engineering for increasing its agricultural production so as to ensure food security for all? Much of debates have already taken place on the usefulness and pitfalls of GMOs.

• The World Development Report 2008-Agriculture for Development, which has been brought out by the World Bank mentions that India presently faces the problem of depleting ground water level that makes agriculture unsustainable and poses risk to environment. If rice is one of the foodgrains that is going to be supplied when the Food Security Act comes into being, then more and more farmers would go for cultivation of rice by looking at the price incentives offered by the Government. In the Punjab region, overexploitation of groundwater takes place thanks to the huge subsidies given on electricity. Moreover, minimum support prices (MSP) for rice increase the financial attractiveness of rice relative to less water-intensive crops, which makes depletion of ground water table more obvious.

• There are apprehensions that sustainability of Food Security law would be at peril if India faces lower agricultural production due to poor harvest, drought etc. in the future. Is India ready to rely upon food imports and food aid to ensure right to food at all cost? At present, the country has been facing shortage in south-west monsoon rainfall that might affect agricultural production and prices of commodities.


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