National Food Security Act: An Analysis
Authored by Raj Krishna* & Sagarika Swapnil**
The concern of food security in India is not new. The country has been reeling of the food security crisis since the pre-independence days. The famines during the British Raj caused lot of deaths. The most notable being the Bengal Famine of 1943 which killed nearly 3 million Bengalis. Post-independence the situation did not improve as India relied a lot upon the food grains which they procured from the United States. However, in the late 1960s and early 1970s we witnessed the Green Revolution which improved our country’s situation and now we produce surplus of food grains. But even then, our country has the largest number of undernourished people.
In the early 2000, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) filed a writ petition before the Supreme Court of India with a prayer of release of food stock for the purpose of welfare schemes. Even though Article 21 of the Constitution does not explicitly provide for right to food. However right to life includes right to live with human dignity. And an individual for a dignified life requires good food. This case resulted in the introduction of various food security schemes like mid-meals, public distribution system and eventually the National Food Security Act.
National Food Security Act: Salient Features
In the year 2013 the Union Government enacted the National Food Security Act with an aim to provide food grains to poor at a subsidized rate. The food security law provides for subsidized food grains to nearly 75 percent of the rural population and nearly 50 of the urban population. People receive food grains under the Targeted Public Distribution System. The Act provides a monthly allocation of 5 kg food grain per person. The Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) allots 35 kg of food grain per household per month.
Under the National Food Security Act both the Union and the State Governments have to work together. Under the Act, the centre is supposed to allocate food grains to the state as per the requirement. The state and the union territory are supposed to identify the households which require government assistance in the procurement of food grains.
Under the National Food Security Act, the eldest women have been designated as the head of the household for the issuance of ration cards. Pregnant women and lactating mother to receive additional benefits under the law. The Act also provides for penalty upon officers in case of failure to comply with the directions of District Grievance Redressal Officer. In the words of Jean Dreze, this Act is a form of human investment.
Loopholes in Existing System
In the CAG report, it has been argued that there is a leakage in Public Distribution System due to which the food grains are being transferred to wrong accounts. Furthermore, there is a lack of proper storage due to which the food grains are rotting. Apart from that the quality of food grains is very poor. The grains are not fit for human consumption. Thus, supply of such food grains serves no purpose.
Today a majority of population from the state of Jharkhand have their ration card application pending. As a result, the Central Government does not provide them with the assistance they require. The state government is forced to buy food grains from the Food Corporation of India at a price above market rate. In poor states like Jharkhand the bank density is low. Using banks thus may not be a viable option then.
Conclusion and Suggestions
The Covid-19 pandemic has turned the Indian as well as global economy upside down. The individuals who have been worst affected by this economic crisis are the ones involved in blue-collar jobs i.e., the daily wage workers. Due to the Covid related restrictions every economic activity was shut which pushed them all to poverty and starvation. As a result, it is important that the government comes to their rescue. It is necessary that only government provides them with employment opportunities, but also free and daily ration.
However, at the time of crisis a High-Level Committee headed by Shanta Kumar had recommended that the coverage of this Act should be reduced. Currently the Act covers nearly 67 % of the population. The Committee has recommended that the coverage should be brought down to 40%.
This is quite disappointing because at this time we need more food supplies than ever. But the Committee recommended that the food coverage should be reduced. This will push more and more families to starvation. According to FAO estimates in “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2018” report, nearly14.8% of the Indian population is undernourished which can expect has increased during the Covid crisis.
Food transfer is necessary for keeping the poor population alive. Schemes such as Public Distribution System and Mid-Day Meals can only be implemented in villages if the Central Government unlocks its godowns and hands more food grains to the states.
* An LL.M. student at NLIU Bhopal. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
** Advocate at Patna High Court. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.