Friday, June 3, 2011


Here is a take on the line of thinking of GOI regarding food security assurance to its people as enunciated in the proposed food security bill. While on paper it looks impressive one cannot be sure about the strategy and practical steps that are needed to implement it at the ground level and ensure that the targeted beneficiaries are really benefited

"The draft Food Security Bill makes it compulsory for state governments to pay a food security allowance to targeted sections in case of failure to supply food grain through a sweeping welfare scheme targeted at nearly three-fourths of the population. The amount will be decided by the central government. The draft bill also presses for a radical overhaul of the food distribution system by giving incentives to independent agencies that procure food grain, according to a the draft, viewed by ET. The bill calls for improved "modern and scientific" storage and doorstep delivery of grain to targeted public distribution system outlets. The National Food Security Act 2011 is the most expansive - politicians have called it showpiece-legislation of the UPA government in its second term in office. It covers all India, except Jammu and Kashmir. The priority households, the main beneficiaries of this bill, will be selected from the poorest 46% in rural areas and 26% in urban areas. Another 29% and 22% of the population from rural and urban areas, respectively will be treated as general category". "The bill also guarantees 7 kgs of grain to every person belonging to priority households and 3 kgs to individuals from general households every month at subsidised prices. The draft has cast the so-called National Food Security Bill 2011 into the mother of all welfare schemes by providing free food to children and pregnant women and encompassing swathes of people such as the destitute, the homeless and migrant workers, as ET had reported on Sunday. The draft bill also envisions a radical change in welfare schemes by making women of 18 years and above as head of selected households that can access rice, wheat and nutri-cereals with ration cards. The draft bill is that it pushes for the creation of an advisory body called the National Food Security Commission to help the central government implement the landmark welfare scheme. The commission will advise the central government on "synergising existing schemes and framing news ones for entitlements". It will also recommend steps for effective implementation of schemes through greater government oversight by dramatically overhauling the nation's food distribution system, says the draft". "Under the food commission's watch, guidelines will be issued for the training, capacity building and performance management of people involved in the implementation of welfare schemes, says the draft. The commission will also prepare annual reports on implementation of the Act. The commission will be headquartered in Delhi and comprise a chairperson, a vice-chairperson and five other members, provided that there at least two women and at least one person each from the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. The centre will pay the salaries of the commission's bosses, support staff and administrative expenses, says the draft. The emphasis on women and 'vulnerable' groups is a common thread running through the draft bill, which largely follows a script laid out by the National Advisory Council (NAC) led by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. For example, the draft bill's guidelines to identify the so-called priority and general households sharply resemble an NAC explanatory note on the bill". "The draft bill says that the centre must periodically prescribe guidelines to identify households selected for the food schemes, including exclusion criteria. It also says these households must be reviewed and updated through periodic surveys, which happens to be another key NAC recommendation to the food ministry, which has prepared the draft and is tasked with the Act's implementation. The draft bill also fixes responsibilities on the central and state governments. The centre must allocate "required quantity" of food grain to state governments under targeted PDS from a central pool of stocks. This allocation must be revised annually based on actual or estimated population counts. And in case of short supply of food grain, the centre must give states funds equivalent to the deficit at prices it fixes, says the draft. States must implement and monitor schemes to ensure "actual delivery and supply of grain to entitled persons". States are to also establish food security commissions under the ambit of the national advisory body, says the draft. State governments are to support breastfeeding for six months from birth through "counselling and related assistance".

How far the new policy will alleviate the hunger and poverty in a country, notorious for corruption and misuse of public resources, remains to be seen. While the thinking behind the Bill is laudable, logistical problems and hang over from the past can derail the new approach. Another imponderable thing is whether this Bill will remain on paper or be implemented. With the food subsidy expected to go up from the present Rs 60,000 crore to 100,000 crore a year if and when the new policy is implemented, the country can ill-afford to waste such a huge public money through mismanagement and inefficiency.

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