Food Security Bill
One of the synonym which can rightly be used for Food Security Bill (now, Act) can be Voters Security Bill. And it seems to be a win win situation for the government also. Either they can come in power because of this or even if they don’t, noproblem, the next government at the centre will be paying the bill for this Bill. The most funny and surprising thing about India’s food economy is that people are dying from hunger; little children are malnourished
despite of the fact that our godowns are bursting with food grain. Is there any Metro to Go home from Godown?
Even a layman knows that without doing any substantial work, he gets guaranteed money for Hundred days
a year (MAHANREGA) and Food grains for one Rupee per Kg, what is the need to sweat? Moreover, if a
Farmer gets wheat for One Rupee a Kg, why will he bother to produce that. Into this dusty picture,
the government has ‘gifted’ us with National Food security Ordinance.
To start with, firstly we should know, What is Food security? It refers to the availability of food and one’s access to it. A family is considered food-secured when its members do not live in hunger or fear of starvation. According to World Health Organization, Food security has three facets: Food availability, Food access, and Food use. Food availability means to have sufficient quantities of food on a consistent basis. Food access means to have sufficient resources, both economic and physical, to obtain appropriate foods for a nutritious diet. Food use means the appropriate use of food based on knowledge of basic nutrition and care, as well as adequate water and sanitation. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has added one more facet: the stability of the first three dimensions of Food security over time.
Does it ensure Food security?
Keeping these facets of Food Security in mind, now let’s talk about Law on Food security. The most fundamental
question is, Can we provide security of food for people without focusing on its availability. The emphasis of Policy makers should have been on the first and primary facet of Food Security, i.e availability of food. The figures of a survey suggest that even 10% of the Total budget for the Food Security is not used to increase the Agricultural
produce. So the need of the hour is not the security of food for people but the security of food itself.
The whole buzz about National Food Security Ordinance is that it aims to give Right to subsidized food grain to
67 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people, and will ensure food and nutritional security focusing on the needs of the
the poor, women and children.
The Food Security Bill is in two parts. The first part deals with food entitlements and their operational
framework. These entitlements are to be realised through specific food- related schemes, implemented by state and local governments with support from the Central Government. The second part develops a framework of
grievance redressal for food-related schemes, with potential for being extended to other economic and social rights. The proposed redressal mechanism tends to go to the grassroots.
The Food Security programme will be the biggest in the world with the government spending estimated at Rs
125,000 crore annually on supply of about 62 million tonnes of rice, wheat and coarse cereals to 67 per cent of
the population4. By looking at the Ordinance, the question which comes in mind is that, how can anyone
oppose food subsidies for the poor and robust schemes to end malnutrition?
There are chances of economic flu in the country as the bill would be having a cascading inflationary effect on
the common person, especially the middle class. As Rs 1,25,000 crore will be spent every year to supply 62
million tonnes of rice, wheat and cereals, it would raise the government’s food subsidy burden from 1 percent
to 1.2 per cent of GDP per annum from the current estimate of 0.8 %. More outgoing of subsidy means
less spending for other projects. Even the infrastructure needed to implement the scheme would require
additional budget which is yet to be calculated. There would also be an additional burden of imports over the
economy in case of monsoon failure and low agriculture output in the country. Since India is not normally an importer, even a small order of 5-10 million tonnes will rock the international markets. As international prices are far above domestic prices, the subsidy bill will bloat even more. Some critics argue that the scheme could upset the budget with subsidies on food doubling to a whopping $23bn (£15.5bn). This will not help India, they say, to
cut its fiscal deficit. The food security program to provide cheaper food grains for BPL families will put pressure
on the exchequer, and government’s expenditure would overshoot estimates .Moreover, the cost of Food security
programme will have to be met by deficit financing. Wouldn’t it be a violation of the Fiscal Responsibility and
Budget Management Act 2003 which provides for limits on the Central government’s deficit budget?
But, after analyzing the following points, one can say that Law on Food security is a myth and not a reality.
Does it ensure Food security? No. Security of any nature can never come by putting spoon into the mouth of
a person. Security always comes with self sufficiency and self reliance. What the Food Security Bill does is to make
the exception into the rule: offering food subsidies to almost all people (65 percent of the population). Isn’t it, the
irresponsible governance and cheap populism, where the bill being paid by all of us – either as taxes or higher
Is it pro-poor? No-In fact it may make a person poor in long run as the government can eliminate the
huge subsidies on petro-goods (diesel and cooking gas, for a start, kerosene later), and withdraw tax concessions
for a Tax payer. And government has already started doing that by freeing the prices of petrol and diesel along
with upcoming Direct Tax Code.
Besides the financial worries, there are numerous other factors also which cannot be ignored. The role of Private
traders may be limited in the grain market, giving state agencies such as the Food Corporation of India
(FCI) total dominance in the trade. Small farmers who grow grains for personal consumption may shift to other crops to make more money and buy subsidized grain. This can affect food grain output. There may
be many leakages and malpractices in the distribution of Food also through PDS.
A whole new setup of bureaucracy will be needed to monitor the proper implementation of Food
security programme. According to the provisions of the Bill, the grains are to be distributed through Public
distribution system, seeing the leaky and malfunctioned PDS, it may invite further corruption. Losses in the PDS
exceeding the notional losses on the 2G scam speak the whole truth.
If people have money in their hands, there will be no need to have such an expensive Food security programme. People need employment, not subsidy. Use of such a huge sum for creating job opportunities can serve the purpose. Use the money on providing better infrastructure, irrigation facilities and modern technology in agriculture and see the result. Wheat at One rupee Kg is not the only requirement of people, they need much more than this.
At last, I can say that Law is not a solution for each and every thing. Has anybody stopped government from
providing food to people without making law? Even after the Supreme Court intervention, government could
not provide Food grains to people which got rotten because of poor storage. When we talk about Right
to Food, which is yet another Right coming from Right to life, we cannot forget Right to work. Implement this
right properly and there will be no need for Right to Food. The issue of Food security can be addressed within
existing laws and regulations without waiting for Parliament to give another ‘right’ to the people and initiating a
massive programme. I am not sure whether the poorest of the poor in our country are in a position to exercise
their ‘rights’. What they need is money to purchase food and they need it quickly without any fuss.
PDS reforms also do not require a new legislation to be put in place.Is the Right to Food more important than the Right to Choose. Why should an economically unsustainable Food
Security Bill, which is going to cost Lacs of crore rupees in coming years, be forced. Although politically it seems to be a much matured one. Don’t make people over dependent, make them self dependent. Think of Abraham
Lincoln, who said, ‘The best way to get a bad law repealed is to enforce it strictly.’ So the only hope left now
seems to be stricter implementation.