29 October 2011

Is the Recent Food Security Bill Good Enough?

Recently a draft on the National Food Security was released by India's Department of Food and Public Distribution this September to improve the hunger situation in India. Though the 27-page draft bill drafted by Sonia Gandhi, Head of National Advisory Council (NAC) was considered by the government, it has received mixed reactions for its contents. The claims made in NAC draft is not practicable due to unavailability of adequate food grains said C. Rangarajan, head of expert committee. They suggested that the claims guaranteed for above poverty line households are unnecessary and that only below poverty line households be integrated in the scheme.

food security bill
The government has shown efforts to deal with the growing hunger rate with food support schemes like The Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICSD); Public Distribution System (PDS) and mid-day meal scheme for school children has mixed record.

Despite of IT, green and white revolution, India is still haunted by hunger and malnutrition. According to a most recent report released by the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), India has shown a little progress in handling the issues related to hunger and malnutrition, but it has not changed the situation, it's still alarming for the country.

NAC draft has stern shortcomings and it's enormously restricted scope is the most primary problem. This draft is not a bill that challenges to bring about food security; rather it only offers various options to the present PDS system for distributing grains. Important factor like component of food security, the production of food, its absorption by hungry and poor and its distribution is lacking attention. Food production, food distribution, and food absorption are the chief factors of food security, but NAC just deals with one. It's more of a welfare bill than labors to take on with the intricate food security.

Drafting a complete Food Security Bill, requires lot of people to give away what they have in excess. But the bill clearly does not say that. However to highlight the serious issues, NAC draft has many pages which demonstrates penalties to violations to the substantive text, turning it into a punishing bill rather than enabling bill.

food security bill
Manners for drafting the bill and consultation undertaken for it are also questionable. There are other questions as well like In what manner were experts and other actors brought on board? How were the public's views sought? How did the principal stakeholders engage in the process of providing inputs? How were the public's views sought? How has this bill attempted to be pluralistic and representative of multiple views?
The present NAC draft needs to add correct components to such a vital law, or else the key targets will be missing and the law will be nothing more than meaningless set of words.

Production of food, its distribution, and capability of the underprivileged people to soak up and seek advantage out of it and nutrition that they can get should be the highlighted factors in a complete food security bill. It never too late, if we take this issue seriously, we still have time to come with new food security legislation.