Two years after its unanimous passage, the landmark National Food Security Act, which guarantees cheap foodgrains to two-thirds of Indians, remains largely unimplemented, research by the Hindustan Times shows.
Only seven states have implemented its core provisions fully (see graphic). Five others have partially executed it, while the NDA government has stalled its rollout in the remaining states, extending the deadline for implementation thrice so far. Another extension looks likely in October, with few states ready to meet the stringent conditions set by government. Six states and Union territories — Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Orissa, Jharkhand, Kerala and Lakshadweep — have offered to implement the Act by September. The rest have again sought more time.
The food ministry has insisted that states with poor supply chains hold off on providing subsidised grains (among other measures) according to the Act until they have linked their food network to an online tracking system, citing a provision of the Act that calls for public distribution network (PDS) reforms.
The delay means that the government is now in contravention of the terms of the Act itself, which stipulates that it should be rolled out within a year, experts say. “The extensions of the deadline to implement the law look illegal since such a step has to be approved by Parliament,” Biraj Patnaik, the Supreme Court-appointed commissioner on right to food, said.
Food minister Ram Vilas Paswan, however, insists that measures to reform and digitise food distribution must come first: “We will stand in violation of the food security law if we allow the food security Act without PDS reforms,” he told HT.
Experts counter the Act which in fact makes clear the provision for a gradual process of digitising and generally overhauling the system.
Section 12(1) of the food law states that governments “shall endeavour to progressively undertake necessary reforms in the Targeted Public Distribution System”.
Reforms, such as warehouse-to-ration shop computerisation and creation of online databases of beneficiaries, are under way in most states. “Digitisation naturally requires longer time since it involves creating infrastructure,” says Dipa Sinha, a right-to-food expert who has been associated with the legislation since its drafting.
According to economist Jean Drèze, visiting professor at Ranchi University, food leakages are being gradually plugged due to PDS reforms, both the National Sample Survey (NSS) and India Human Development Survey (IHS) show. While the NSS-based data showed PDS leakage had come down from 54% in 2004-05 to 42% in 2011-12, the IHD series showed leakages dropping to 32% from 49% during the same period.
With few states prepared to fully digitise their PDS network by October, the latest deadline, the landmark law is set to be postponed again.