The UPA’s new game-changer, the food security bill, provides for lesser penalty for errant officials than the watershed Right To Information Act and a tedious process for booking them.
The RTI Act had provided for a maximum penalty of Rs. 25,000 against any official denying information to an applicant. The government has adopted a minimal approach by prescribing just Rs. 5,000 penalty for officials, who fail to provide subsidised food to the beneficiaries in the food security law.
The food security law also provides for ample protection to the officials on the ground that they can be penalised after a due process is followed. That means the officials are heard and penalty is invoked only after an inquiry is conducted.
“Everyone knows that it takes years to complete an inquiry in a government system. Till then a poor person will have to suffer,” an activist of the Right To Food campaign said.
The Ordinance through which the law was recently promulgated has come out with clear provisions on protection of officials with little to ensure that people get the food supply on time. As per the process provided in the law, redressal of a person’s complaints will take several months.
The law also gives powers to food ministry officials to suspend any provision of the law if they think it is not implementable after two years, another provision aimed to protect the officials.
Government officials fear that the beneficiaries or the activists can take them to the court if certain provisions of the law are not implemented because of “harsh ground realities”. They also felt that having such a power will empower them to strengthen the law in coming years.
Amid all this, the law also tries to ensure transparency and accountability.
Taking a cue from the Mahatma Gandhi NREGA Act, the food security law provides for social audits by reputed organisations on how the food scheme is running. The social audits are conducted by NGOs based on information sought under RTI Act.