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• By : Dr. Divya
Three major elements of By all indications, the 150 districts those in the Above Poverty Line (APL)

T the United Progressive


Alliance government's
commitment to provide food security
from where universal PDS would
commence will be in the rural
poverty-belt in Jharkhand, Bihar,
category, in the identified districts.
For the rest of the 490-odd
districts where targeted PDS will
to the people are reforming the Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Assam, eastern continue for now, the Tendulkar
public distribution system (PDS), Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Committee's poverty estimate of
raising foodgrain productivity and Rajasthan. Recent events have 8.07 core families will hold. Hence,
production, and creating a shown that there is a certain urgency for the APL population that is brought
decentralised, modern warehousing about reaching out to the poor and in or kept out of the PDS depending
system. the marginalised people in this belt. on grain availability, it will be status
Ideally, the reforms in the PDS The rough calculation is that quo for the time being. The APL
should have come first for the universalisation will begin in some families will gradually (possibly over
availability and delivery of subsidised 1,500 blocks (an average of 10 in each five years) be assured of a minimum
foodgrains to become meaningful of the 150 districts) where more than of 25 kg per family at prices that will
and comprehensive. Be that as it may, 95 per cent of the population is poor. be worked out by the govern-ment.
the recommendation of the National The criterion that is being worked out The subsidy burden will depend on
Advisory Council (NAC) to launch will exclude those who are in salaried the estimated offtake and the cost
universal PDS in one-fourth of all or government jobs, are income tax will be worked out by the Union
districts or blocks for a start should be payees, have a four-wheeler or own a Ministry of Food and Public
seen as a paradigm shift towards plot or a house with a plinth area of Distribution.
universalisation. This move reveals over 500 square feet. Using these Welfare measures including mid-
that the all-powerful NAC headed by criteria, it is estimated that about five day meal programmes, the
UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi has per cent of the population would be integrated child development
realised that the ability to deliver out of the scheme in these districts. scheme and calamity relief
cheap foodgrains will be contingent This will be crucial because the programmes will continue. The
on availability availability that is identification of beneficiaries and inclusion of the destitute, migrants,
home-grown, not based on imports. implementation of the scheme will the old, the infirm and the urban poor
In order to make a serious effort to be done by the State governments. will be worked out after the Hashim
meet the provisions of the proposed It has also been decided to Committee report on urban poverty
food security Bill, it is essential to subsume the “poorest of the poor” is received. For now, pulses and
enhance the production of wheat, the Antyodaya Anna Yojna bene- edible oils will not be included in the
rice, pulses, oilseeds and millets. ficiary families now numbering 2.5 food basket under the proposed
This, in turn, needs a policy review in crore of the 6.5 crore Below Poverty National Food Security Act as the
favour of land reforms, securing Line (BPL) families. The AAY acute shortfall in the production of
fertile agricultural land for foodgrain beneficiaries buy PDS foodgrains at these commodities is met by large-
production rather than allowing the Rs.2 a kg. They will have to pay Re.1 scale imports.
indiscriminate setting up of special more for grain under the universal Broadly, there will be an
economic zones (SEZs), mega-food PDS, which will provide 35 kg wheat enhanced outgo of about 20 million
parks and builders' colonies on or rice at Rs.3 a kg per family to all the tonnes on account of providing 35 kg
farmers' fields. identified beneficiaries, including (up from the present 12 kg) to the APL
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population at Rs.3 a kg in the 150 promise made by the Congress below the poverty line, which he
districts in addition to the BPL outgo. before general elections 2009. apparently defines as a monthly per
In a bad year, this may come from The draft Food Security Bill would capita income of Rs 700 in rural areas
cutting APL or Open Market Sale provide 25 kg of wheat/ rice to BPL and Rs 1,000 in urban areas. While a
Scheme allocations. households at Rs. 3/- per kg. For Planning Commission estimate puts
It is clear by now that the key to some, it is just old wine in a new the number of below poverty line
universalisation is the availability of bottle and would rely excessively on (BPL) families at 62.5 million, state
foodgrains. For this reason, even the existing infrastructure and logistical governments estimate that this
activists working under the banner of support of the public distribution number is closer to 107 million. Some
the Right to Food Campaign have system (PDS). experts feel that availing the public
accepted “phased” universalisation. If made into a law, the draft Food with more number of BPL ration
The Food Ministry's cautious Security Bill would reduce the cards help the state-level politicians
estimate is that the average annual allocation for a below poverty line to win elections through populist
availability for the PDS is about 43 (BPL) household (e.g. in the case of means. The World Bank's figure for
million tonnes. The NAC seems to Antodaya Anna Yojana) from 35 kg of the percentage of population below
have gone by the Planning rice/ wheat per month to 25 kg of
Commission estimate of availability rice/ wheat per month. This would
of about 50 to 55 million tonnes to appear contradictory to many who
ensure the supply of cheap expected the Bill to be a benign effort
foodgrains in 150 districts besides of the UPA-II (2009-****) to ensure
fulfilling regular commitments of food security. There are possibilities
buffer and welfare schemes. o f i n c re a s e d fo o d s u b s i d i e s
It is obvious that the UPA's amounting to Rs. 70,000 crore per
seeming benevolence on the food annum if the Bill becomes a law,
security front is not going to be which might be opposed by those
entirely without strings. The who prefer to follow neo-liberal
underlying principle is that the doctrine. Subsidies are usually
subsidy accruing from providing opposed on the pretext of distortion
foodgrains at cheap rates will come in prices, inefficiency and leakages.
from withdrawal of subsidies on The Interim Budget 2009-10 estimate
petrol, diesel and, gradually, of the food subsidy bill in 2009-10
kerosene, and other unforeseen was Rs. 42,490 crore.
measures. The exact number of BPL
Besides ensuring minimum households may vary according to
foodgrain entitlements at a discount, the definition of poverty line one the poverty line in India is 42 per cent,
the draft of the National Food selects. In that case, it would be based on 2005 data.
Security Act will indicate enabling difficult to target the original BPL The Uniform Recall Period (URP)
clauses with regard to enhancing households under the new Food Consumption distribution data of
foodgrain production, public distri- Security law. There are four different National Sample Survey (NSS) 61st
bution reforms and improvement in estimates for the number of BPL Round places the poverty ratio at
drinking water, sanitation, health and households: one by Prof. Arjun 28.3 per cent in rural areas, 25.7 per
hygiene for better intake and Sengupta, another by Dr. NC Saxena, cent in urban areas and 27.5 per cent
absorption of food by the poor. World Bank estimates and the for the country as a whole in 2004-05.
In other words, the proposed Bill Planning Commission estimates. The corresponding poverty ratios
will provide for food security but call According to Prof. Arjun Sengupta from the Mixed Recall Period (MRP)
for nutrition security. who chaired the National consumption distribution data are
Salient features of the Food Security Commission for Enterprises in the 21.8 per cent for rural areas, 21.7 per
Bill are as follows: Unorganized Sector, 77% of the cent for urban areas and 21.8 per
President Pratibha Patil on June 4, population of India lives below the cent for India as a whole. While the
2009 said that a National Food poverty line. Dr. NC Saxena, a retired former consumption data uses 30-
Security Act would be formulated civil servant acting as a day recall/reference period for all
whereby each BPL family would be Commissioner appointed by the items of consumption, the latter uses
entitled by law to get 25 kg of rice or Supreme Court, feels that half the 365-day recall/reference period for
wheat per month at Rs 3 a kg, a country's population of 1.15 billion is five infrequently purchased non-food
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items, namely, clothing, footwear, may not fall below the poverty line would be at peril if India faces lower
durable goods, education and but are already exposed to food agricultural production due to poor
institutional medical expenses and insecurity? The Rome Declaration harvest, drought etc. in the future. Is
30-day recall/reference period for (1996) made during the World Food India ready to rely upon food imports
remaining items. The percentage of Summit states that 'food security is and food aid to ensure right to food?
poor in 2004-05 estimated from URP achieved when all people, at all At present, the country has been
consumption distribution of NSS 61st times, have physical and economic facing shortage in south-west
Round of consumer expenditure data access to sufficient, safe and monsoon rainfall that might affect
are comparable with the poverty nutritious food to meet their dietary agricultural production and prices of
estimates of 1993-94 (50th Round) needs and food preferences for an commodities. Is India ready to rely
which was 36 per cent for the country active life'. Food security is about exclusively upon biotechnology for
as a whole. The percentage of poor in nutrition security too. If that is the increasing its agricultural production
2004-05 estimated from MRP case, the Food Security Bill has to so as to ensure food security for all?
consumption distribution of NSS 61st rethink about the quality of Some analysts feel that India
Round of consumer expenditure data foodgrains supplied and distributed. presently has adequate buffer stocks
The Food Security Bill must also aim to enact and implement the Food
at providing fortified foodgrains Security law.
along with edible oils, salt and The Food Security law is nothing
essential spices. A balanced diet but a gimmick so as to increase the
would ensure both food and nutrition popularity of the UPA II. This is a
security. The basket of commodities, forward-looking step to ensure vote
which would be available to the for the Congress so that Rahul Gandhi
consumers, should reflect local tastes could lead UPA-III.
and preferences and must include Seeing the popularity of the
locally grown cereals and legumes. National Rural Employment
The alternative draft Food Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), which
Security Bill that has been prepared helped the Congress to win the 2009
by Prof. Jean Dreze and his team and parliamentary elections, the newly
which has been scrutinized by 10, constituted Government has thought
Janpath, according to media of bringing out the Food Security Act
resources, has clauses to make the within the first 100 days of its stay in
various food related programmes the office for the second time.
running in the country more The World Development Report
accountable and transparent. There 2008-Agriculture for Development,
are roughly comparable with the is focus on public accountability and which has been brought out by the
poverty estimates of 1999-2000 more coverage of BPL households World Bank mentions that India
(55th Round) which was 26.1 per cent under the yet to be enacted Food presently faces the problem of
for the country as a whole Instead of Security law. Prof. Dreze's draft points depleting ground water level that
better implementation of the already out that subsidy would not rise due to makes agriculture unsustainable and
existing schemes such as the reduction in allocation for rice/ poses risk to environment. If rice is
Targeted Public Distribution System wheat per BPL household. one of the foodgrain that would be
(TPDS), Antodaya Anna Yojana (AAY), If targeting of BPL households is supplied when the Food Security Act
Integrated Child Development done under the Food Security Bill, comes into being, then more and
Scheme (ICDS), Mid Day Meal then it might lead to inclusion m o re fa r m e rs wo u l d g o fo r
Scheme (MDMS) etc., the Food (including the non-poor) and cultivation of rice. In the Punjab
Security law might make things exclusion (excluding the poor) errors. region, overexploitation of
unduly worse and unnecessarily It would be wiser to go for groundwater takes place thanks to
complicated. A cynical question here universalization (rather than the huge subsidies given on
would be: Is the Food Security Bill targeting) as was recommended by electricity. Moreover, minimum
going to replace all such food related the Committee on Long Term Grain support prices (MSP) for rice increase
schemes that existed before its Policy under the chairmanship of the financial attractiveness of rice
enactment? Prof. Abhijit Sen (2000-02). relative to less water-intensive crops,
If the Bill is about ensuring food There are apprehensions that which makes depletion of ground
security, how can it leave those who sustainability of Food Security law water table more obvious.
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