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National food security and its ground reality

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The basic concept of food security globally is to ensure that all people, at all times, should get access to basic access to basic food for their active and healthy life and is characterized by availability, access, utilization and stability of food. Though the Indian Constitution does not have any explicit provision regarding right to food, the fundamental right to life enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution may be interpreted to include right to live with human dignity, which may include the right to food and other basic necessities.

Though the issue of ‘food security’ at the household is continuously being addressed by the Indian Government since long, through the Public Distribution System (PDS) and Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), the enactment of the National Food Security Act, (NFSA) 2013 on July 5, 2013 marks a paradigm shift in the approach of food security from ‘welfare to right based approach’. The Act legally entitles upto 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population to receive subsidised foodgrains under TPDS. About two thirds of India’s population therefore is covered under the Act to receive highly subsidised foodgrains. As a step toward women empowerment, the eldest women of the household of age 18 years or above is mandated to be head of the household for the purpose of issuing ration cards under the Act. And it has all the ingredients in place to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG 2), which is to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture prior to the 2030 targets.

Under NFSA Center it provides 5 kg of foodgrains (Rs 3 per kg for rice and Rs 2 per kg for wheat) per person per month to about 80 crore beneficiaries at a highly susidised price of Rs 2-3 per kg under this plan. The distribution of foodgrains through nation-wide portability of ration cards through the implementation if IT-driven system by installation of electronic Point of Sale (e-POS) devises at fair price shops or ration shops, seeding of Aadhar number of beneficiaries with their ration cards and operationalization of biometrically authenticated e-POS transactions in various States and Union Territories. Since April 2020 government is providing additional 5 kg rice and pulses (free of cost) per head to NFSA beneficiaries.

Currently, the facility of national portability of ration cards under ‘One Nation One Ration Card plan’ is seamlessly enabled in an integrated clusters of 24 States/UTs with effect from August 1, 2020, covering approximately 65 crore beneficiaries (80% of total NFSA population) in these states.

Till now what we discussed, look good at surface level but the ground reality is totally different. I would like to share one story of Vimla (name changed). Recently, I visited my native place in Uttar Pradesh, where I met Vimla who is washerwoman our area. Casually, I discussed with her about her family then I came to know that she is not getting ration since three months (which she is legally entitled to) because four months ago she switched to digitised ration card (Aadhar authenticated ration card) after getting new ration card she went to Kotedar (ration distributor) Amba Agrawal (name changed) for ration but Amba Agrawal said to Vimla that you will get ration after three months. Hence, come for three months and do your verification, after that you will get your ration.

I was wondering, how it is possible. I took her ration card number and visited NFSA UP government website and found that ration distributor is taking foodgrains and making her fool that she needs to verify it for three months. I went to Amba Agrawal and asked him about this issue. He told me the same story which he told Vimla. I felt really agitated, I showed him the NFSA UP data which showing that Vimla is getting foodgrains. Then Amba Agrawal accepted and said, brother we take three months ration from everyone and after that we take ‘one unit of ration’ (one person of a family) so that we can make sure no one’s name is deleted from ration card and timely delivery of foodgrains to the beneficiary. I found this polite threat very weird.

I called Ward Member of Vimla’s area (who is an elected representative) and narrated the story but I got more shocking reply from ward member, she said, – sir, this is how system works. Then, I called to SDM of that area, he said, – speak to your Ward Member. Now, I realised that its very difficult to come out of the situation where system has become a cobweb. I thought of writing a mail to Minister of Consumer Affairs but Vimla said brother, you will go after 1 or 2 months form here but I have to face them every month. Whatever I am getting through PDS (foodgrains), may not get in future. I realised that whatever she is saying is correct and I left Vimla at her condition and felt very bad and agitated that could not help her.

What needs to be done to eliminate corruption form Public Distribution System?

Bono has rightly said- “the worst disease in the in the world today is corruption”.

Government spend 1.7 lakh crore on food subsidy bill but unfortunately due to corruption an loopholes in the system people are not getting what they are legally entitled for.

Section 12 (2) (h)of NFSA, 2013 deals with ‘cash transfer of food subsidy’ means NFSA can be implemented in cash transfer mode under which equivalent of subsidy can be transferred directly into the Bank accounts of eligible households to enable them to purchase food grains from open market. But the problem is with this provision is, it is optional for States/UTs. Only three UTs provide cash subsidy unnder DBT i.e. Chandigarh, Puducherry and Dadra & Nagar Haveli. NFSA is biggest source of corruption that’s why state governments are reluctant to implement above mentioned provision of NFSA. Hence, parliament should make Section 12 of NFSA a mandatory provision so that intended beneficiaries can get what they are entitled for.

Cash transfer seeks to increase the choices available with a beneficiary, and he or she can decide that what he/she wants to consume rather than government forcing people to consume rice/wheat. Cost of DBT may be lesser than PDS, owing to lesser cost incurred on storage, transport.

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