The draft food security legislation readied for Cabinet’s approval is much narrower in scope than initially envisaged and stops short of assuring an entitlement, as was previously pledged.
The final draft Bill, approved by an empowered group of ministers (eGoM) and reviewed by Mint, restricts coverage to poor citizens, confines it to the supply of 25 kg of wheat and rice, doesn’t lock in the government to a fixed issue price and excludes destitutes from the purview of other welfare schemes covered by it.
Hence, it is unlike the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, which guarantees employment to one member of every rural household and doesn’t restrict it to those below the poverty line (BPL).
While the eGoM decision is considered final, it requires Cabinet approval. Thereafter, it will be put in the public domain for discussion.
The legislation, influenced by fiscal constraints on the UPA, in its present form falls short of the original proposal approved by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. The party’s poll manifesto had promised entitlement by enacting “a right to food law that guarantees access to sufficient food for all, particularly the most vulnerable sections of society”.
The contours of the food security law were laid out by President Pratibha Patil in her speech to MPs in June, where she maintained it would amount to entitlement. “Every BPL family in rural and urban areas will be entitled, by law, to 25 kg of rice or wheat per month at Rs 3 per kg. This legislation will also be used to bring broader systemic reform in the public distribution system (PDS).”
But the eGoM has delinked the proposed National Food Security Act from nutritional security and restricted it to BPL sections. It has also restricted it to wheat and rice.
An economist associated with the UPA’s development programmes said the draft Act had been “completely watered down”. “It is a shell without content and not good enough to address the real issue of poverty and hunger.”
Harsh Mander, Supreme Court-appointed commissioner on food security, said: “The proposed law adds nothing to impoverished people’s rights and access to sufficient food for a healthy life. In fact, it reduces these entitlements.”
PDS already provides more subsidised foodgrains per household than the proposed law — 35 kg against 25 kg, he said.
The final draft also moves away from some of the decisions taken at the February 12 eGoM meeting, reported in Mint on March 5. It had, for instance, sought the inclusion of destitutes, beggars, street children and the homeless, which the final cut omits.
The final draft also indicates the government can vary the issue price of PDS foodgrains. It does so by omitting any reference to the proposed price of Rs 3 per kg and says the price will be specified in the rules, to be issued separately.
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