With the Lok Sabha finally passing the contentious National Food Security Bill on Wednesday, the Congress celebrated the fulfillment of one of its major campaign aims. But despite talk of the Bill eliminating all hunger and malnutrition in the country, a few contentious issues about its implementation remain.
The Bill aims to make the right to food a legal right. It proposes to use the existing Public Distribution System (PDS) to deliver food grain to 75 per cent of the rural and 50 per cent of the urban population. While the advantages of the PDS system are that it insulates beneficiaries from inflation and price volatility, and ensures that entitlements are used for food grain only, the PDS system is known to suffer from leakages as high as 40 per cent. In some cases, where the government is unable to deliver food to the PDS system it allows for cash transfers. This may defeat the purpose as the cash can be used to buy non-food items.
While the Bill seeks to provide the legal right to subsidized food grain to 67 per cent of the population it creates a problem of identifying beneficiaries. It classifies the population into two categories of beneficiaries - general and priority - but is silent on how a priority household is identified. The Bill says that the states are to provide the records of the poor but it is unclear whether they have accurate records for this. It could lead to significant sections being excluded from the classification of beneficiaries.
Another contentious issue is that the Bill envisages a cost sharing between the Centre and the states where the states will bear the cost for nutritional support to pregnant women and lactating mothers, mid-day meals, anganwadi infrastructure, meals for children suffering from malnutrition, transport and delivery of food grains and creating and maintaining storage facilities. These are all good provisions but they place a significant burden on the states. With regard to implementation it is unclear if the Centre can require the states to allocate funds without encroaching on the powers of state legislative assemblies. If a state does not have the funds for implementation or the state assembly chooses not to allocate, it could seriously affect the working of the Bill.
Courtesy: India Today