Monday, June 25, 2012


Suman Sahai

According to Gargi Parsai’s report in The Hindu of 31 May, the Center  is making the already  ridiculous Food Security Bill, even more nonsensical by curtailing the food entitlement  further. Going back on its promise of  a smaller allotment of food grains to families above the miserable cut off  line defining poverty, the poor who qualify as above the poverty line (APL category) will not get any food support at all. Far from universalizing the entitlement , the UPA government has squeezed the poor by reducing the amount of food it is prepared to give to the hungry. 

One must question why one should  go through with this farcical Food Security Bill at all. Its primary driving force is the fact that the Congress party made  a poll promise and it sees electoral benefit  in pushing such a legislation through. The government appears to be enacting a pantomime, going through the motions of caring for the hungry by enacting a legislation, hoping that most people would not really look into what the legislation actually contains for the poor, namely very little. 

In a major shift in policy, the Centre now plans to confine food entitlement only to below poverty Line (BPL) households and completely exclude the existing category of the above poverty line families. This is in the face of all demands to make food entitlements universal. Tamil Nadu already has a universal PDS and the Chief Minister, Ms Jayalalitha has therefore rejected the UPA Food Security Bill, saying it undermines the support to the poor that Tamil Nadu is already giving.

The task of identifying the BPL families will be left to the State governments and several States have raised objections to putting a ceiling on the number of poor households. In any case holders of BPL cards in villages are more or less identified by their proximity to powerful persons, not necessarily the extent of their poverty. 

The current Food Security Bill i( FSB) s a parody of legislation. It muddles around with the existing PDS system without in any way suggesting how  the inefficiencies and leakages of the current  structures  can be plugged. 

I have argued elsewhere that the FSB must be redrafted completely and made to rest on three pillars: the production of food, its distribution and ensuring the absorption of food by providing clean drinking water and sanitation.

A Bill to provide food security must be an enabling legislation, not based on dole.  Appropriate conditions must be ensured to the farming community to enable them to produce adequate and nutritious food so that our food security is based on self-reliance. 

The key concepts  for  remodel ling the distribution system are decentralization and diversification . A decentralized system can procure local foods from the region, thus reducing transportation costs and spoilage . A diversified system need not procure only wheat and rice but can expand the basket to include nutricereals  like millets as well as  yams, tubers , sweet potatoes and pumpkins and anything else that the region produces. Dietary diversity will improve nutrition, locally sourced food will be fresher and give farmers an incentive to produce a range of diverse foods since the PDS will be the market to buy up the food.  If the intentions are pure, the way to achieve food and nutrition security  is obvious.

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