The first step towards ensuring food security is to accept that it is an extension of the fundamental right to life. Food Security Bill stems from a genuine concern for the poor. It is also part of India’s commitment to meet the United Nation’s eight Millennium Development Goals of reducing poverty to 50 per cent by 2015.
Over the years, there have been various methods to define poverty for the Public Distribution System. This targeted approach rather than a rights approach has caused colossal damage because of corruption Even the three committees appointed by the government have presented contradictory findings.
According to Arjunsen Gupta of NCEUS, the poor form 77.8 per cent of the population. The Rural Development Ministry’s Saxena report has estimated rural poor to be 50 per cent. The Planning Commission’s Tendulkar report has pegged rural poor at 41.8 per cent and urban poor at 25.7 per cent.
The Tendulkar report will ensure food insecurity to a large section of the population, especially the urban poor. The first draft of the Planning Commission proposed a monthly entitlement of 25kg at Rs 3 a kg (lesser than the existing 35kg and way below the average requirement of 50kg) for those below Tendulkar’s poverty line of Rs 15 (rural) and Rs 19 (urban). This draft threatens to leave 58 per cent of the rural and 74 per cent of the urban population out of the purview of welfare schemes.
After this draft drew flak, the National Advisory Council (NAC) floated two proposals: 1) Eighty per cent of the rural and 33 per cent urban poor to be entitled to 35kg cereals at Rs 3 a kg. 2) Forty-two per cent rural poor will be entitled to 35kg of cereal at Rs 3 and the remaining will be entitled to 25kg at Rs 5 or Rs 7.5.
Both proposals were silent about the fate of the remaining 67 per cent of the urban population deemed to be “not poor”. All the proposals adopted the “cereal centric approach” with no mention of pulses and oil thus compromising on nutritional security. The NAC proposals were an improvement over the Planning Commission’s draft but the Centre rejected them because they required larger budgetary allocation, which is actually only 2 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product in the fourth year if implemented in phases.
Our child, infant and maternal mortality rates are high. We rank 64th out of 85 nations on the Global Hunger Index. We have the world’s highest number of children with stunted growth. At least 50 per cent of our children are underweight and 75 per cent women are anaemic.
With the hunger crisis looming large we are still dithering over rolling out a comprehensive food security program. Any initiative based on targeted approach rather than rights approach is likely to deny food rights to the deserving. (Anees is an activist of Movement for Peace & Justice (Maharashtra). He represented Maharashtra in the Right To Food Campaign’s Steering Committee of National Food Security Bill)