Fulfilling India’s food needs

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batori.inEnsuring food security and eliminating mass malnutrition is perhaps India’s biggest and most serious development problem and challenge for policy maker.

Food is the first among the basic  needs and it is for this reason that ”the human right to food is recognized in several instruments under international law [UN 1990] specially, Article 11 of the International Covenants on Economic ,Social and Cultural Rights recognizes ‘the fundamental right to freedom from hunger and malnutrition.

In the last decade, a strong movement emerged in India led by left wing political parties, academics and NGOs for establishing a universal right to food, it was perhaps this pressure culminated in the drafting of food security bill, 2011 which was eventually passed by Parliament in September 2013 and got presidential assent on the 12th of September, thus becoming National Food Security Act, 2013.

The Act provides for 5 kg per person /person/month of cereals, rice wheat and coarse grains at Rs 3, Rs 2, Rs 1/kg respectively to priority household and 3 kg/month to Antoyodya households, the persons covered may be as many as 75% of rural and 50% of urban population.

What Was The Need For Food Security Bill? [FSB]

With 22% [269.3] million  of its population undernourished, nearly 44% of under 5 children underweight and 7% of them dying before they reach 5 years, India is home for the maximum children of the world .

According to the global hunger index [GHI] of the international food policy research institute [IFPRI], India is 63rd among the worst 120 countries in terms of absolute malnutrition.

In HDI ranks it is placed at 134 among the 189 countries even sub Saharan countries faring well than India.

Since we have the targeted public distribution system [TPDS], which provides food grains, sugar, and oil at highly subsidised prices to the poor, then what is the need for the FSB?

Actually, the main problem with the TDPS is that it does not effectively reach the poor.

     1. PDS has a large exclusion error and does not reach most of the poor.

     2. It provides only fraction of food grains consumption of India

     3. The poor get a more than 10% of the total subsidy expense of the govt.

     4. More than 40% of the PDS grains do not reach the consumers.

As per the 2004-05 NSS survey households in the bottom only 17% of their food grains consumption from PDS for the country as a whole .The percentage varied from  2% for Bihar ,6%for up to 50% and 60%  Tamil Nadu and Karnataka respectively.

The income support provided to the poor in 2004-05 through PDS was Rs 21 bn whereas the total expenditure was Rs 204 bn, only 10% accrue poor, 19% to non poor, 28% is due to excess cost of operation and 43%is due to illegal diversions.

Coverage and Identification of Beneficiaries.

One way deal with the exclusion error is to go for the universal right to food under which everyone is entitled to get subsidised food grains from the PDS as proposed by the NATIONAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE. FSB covers up 75% of rural and 50% urban households so it will include all poor though, it will ensure no poor is excluded rather since non poor included.

The biggest and exhaustive task underline the identification of beneficiaries, but my view is that simple, non ambivalent method should be devised to comprehend and to identify criteria such as those who own a motorised vehicle.

Those who own certain amount of land .those who live in a home of certain size, etc. will work out and one can be reasonably sure that since 30% of rural and 50% urban people can be excluded on that ground.

 Supply Side of the Bill

The Govt through its own specified agencies such as Food Corporation of India [FCI] can effectively procure at minimum support price from all over country. Since at present FCI largely operate in few selected states, so in order to procure more, govt has to incentives more to procure enough food grains ,secondly apart from higher support prices ,FCI and financial burden ,it will create complacency among the farmers those states not covered under  by FSB, therefore they will opt for cash crops as it would be more profitable  to grow something  else and obtain food grains at low price from PDS ,it is already being observed in state of Chhattisgarh ,thus cropping pattern will be distorted.

In this scenario, the total food grains production can collapse to import the food grains, which may alternatively push up world prices as raised by WTO members in BALI, 2013, and increase our budget outlays, thus, till time FCI expands its coverage, the implementation of distribution of food grains under the food security act could be very risky.

The most accentuated loopholes is that, on average consumption of cereals is 10.7 kg/month/person. Thus after getting 5 kg, a person still requires 5.7 kg from the market will be very volatile and sticky and market may go to the roof, so it is difficult to assess the impact on poor.

Financial Implication

Govt is providing subsidy of Rs 10/kg. So far 5 kg, it will be Rs 50/month/person and FSB aims at 900 million [90 crore] of population. Thus 900*50*12 then it is estimated to be Rs 54000.

If one count the costs of procurement, mandi charges, distribution, costs etc of FCI’s traditional efficiency, the cost would be reaching Rs 1 to the poor improves efficiency substantially. The cost would be anywhere near Rs 100,000 crore to Rs 150,000 crore.

Recently the interim budget 2013-14, on 17th February 2014, govt has set aside Rs 1, 15000 crore for FSB.

Conclusion

FSB is perhaps largest welfare scheme in the world and much needed legislatures for countries like India, where food is surplus and tend to rot in ware houses, but the success of bill lies in the effective implementation of the bill with ploughing all the loopholes and fillers ,actually , the fact is that ,an extremely important factor of malnutrition in India  is the disease environment to which  children are exposed ,it is estimated that within a square of K.M some 200 persons defecate openly [around 626 million in total]. Till this is controlled, increasing food consumption could have only marginal impact on malnutrition as can be seen from the incidence of child nutrition even among the richer classes of society. Right to latrines may be more important than FSB for reducing malnutrition.

-Mohd Hanzallah

(The author is a law final year student at Aligarh Muslim University)

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