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The National Food Security Act mainly aims at providing subsidised food grains under targeted Public Distribution System to have access to adequate quality and quantity of food essential for basic human consumption. Midday Meal Schemes, Integrated Child Development Services Scheme and Public Distribution System are included in this Act. Women and children are the special focus of this Act.
National Food Security Act is always read with Essential Commodities Act and Food Safety Services International (FSSI). The objective of Essential Commodities Act is to provide rice,wheat and some other essential commodities which are essential for human existence at subsidised rates. Ration shops are covered under this Act. FSSI is an approval that the particular food item is fit for human consumption.
SC asks States for report on Food Security Act
The Act makes an appearance in the news after a petition filed by the family of a 11-year old Dalit girl, who died of starvation in Jharkhand on 28 August 2018 as the government failed to issue a new ration card to the family and stopped providing rations since March 2017.
The previous ration card had been canceled as the family had not linked the ration card to the Aadhaar card, even though the family had possessed both.
The petition also contained names of 29 people who had died of starvation in different parts of the country such as Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Odisha, etc.
On hearing the petition, the Supreme Court demanded that the States must establish a grievance redressal platform to address complaints about inaccessibility to subsidised food as mandated by the FSA 2013.
Senior Advocate, Mr. Colin Gonsalves who represents the petition with advocate Anupradha Singh, argued that a citizen of India could not be denied food as it is a constitutional and fundamental right. He further reflected on the poor implementation of the act, highlighting the pitiable situation faced by the beneficiaries of the act even after its enactment in 2013.
He also suggested that the government should come up with an alternative to check the identity of the poor, in case the Aadhar card fails as one. On behalf of the State, the Solicitor General argued that one of the deaths documented in the petition was not in fact caused by starvation.
The Court, after hearing both sides of arguments, adjourned its final decision. saying that it would wait for a more official response from the respective States. However, the Court did not look too kindly on the multiple starvation deaths since FSA 2013. It stated that no Government should withhold the ration from an underprivileged household.
Salient features of the act
Some of the key features of the Act are that it aims to provide coverage and entitlement under Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS).Up to 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population with uniform entitlement of 5 kg per person per month, at subsidised prices of Rs. 3 per kg for rice, Rs. 2 per kg for wheat and Rs. 1 per kg for coarse grains. Pregnant women and lactating mothers are also covered in the scheme, amd are provided an additional maternity benefit of upto Rs. 6,000.
Children in the age group of 6 months to 14 years are covered by implementations under the Act such as the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and Mid-Day Meal (MDM) schemes.
The Act is also punitive in nature. Public servants may be penalised for failure to comply with the relief recommended by the District Grievance Redressal Officer, i.e. the establishment of an efficient grievance redressal mechanism.
The Act also seeks to empower women and maintain transparency and accountability by making eldest women above 18 to be head of the household and allowing disclosure of records of any social audits or relating to PDS,etc.
Why was it introduced?
India is a country where around 40% of the children are undernourished and 73 million people live in extreme poverty which increased the importance for an act which aims to provide a life of dignity to people from such underprivileged backgrounds.
The act was introduced to ensure that “nutritional security in the human life cycle was met, by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices to people to live a life with dignity” (GOI 2013). The act seeks that national food security be provided to about two-thirds of the population which would be entitled to subsidised foodgrains.
Amendments since 2013
The ration cards provided to the families belonging to above and below poverty lines category, under the Targeted Public Distribution System of 1997, left out a major chunk of the population from such groups without ration cards and subsequently excluded from a scheme intended for them.
However, The National Food Security Act, 2013, enlarged its coverage under the public distribution system to 67% of the population. The 2013 law was also amended from giving household entitlements to individual entitlements as the size and needs of a household could be different from others. The law after 2013, thus expanded and simplified the entitlements by becoming more inclusive.
Inefficiencies in implementation:
States were required by the Act to implement the expanded provisions within a year, but several states failed to do so.
In some states like Chhattisgarh, Odisha, and Madhya Pradesh, most households in rural parts of the country have ration cards issued to them and are able to secure their foodgrain entitlements at the right rates.
West Bengal has almost universalised its public distribution system ensuring cover to more than 85% of the rural families in the state. Even though, Bihar and Jharkhand expanded their coverage, the quality of foodgrains provided still remains below-par.
The law fails to be effective on ground as the quality of the food grains varies in different states and remains to be poor in several states. Moreover, there is irregularity in the delivery and the deliveries become due for a long time due to various reasons such as poor administration on the part of the states.
Furthermore, many people still remain excluded from the ration system even though there has been improvement in certain parts of the country.
Scope for improvement
The government should focus on first of all come up with means to effectively ensure that it includes people that it introduced the bill for in the ration system and maintain a system which keeps a track of its lists of beneficiaries on the occasion of their birth or death.
The government should keep a check on its deliveries, quality and prices of the food grains that it provides to such household while also trying to minimise the huge costs incurred by the government to provide food security by coming up with a more efficient and honest system. The government should also provisionalise its scheme for any demand and production fluctuations that may arise.
The bill can be prove to be a catalyst to ensure the political and economic development and growth if it is implemented properly by the government.
It can be a kind of investment in human capital as it would bring some security in people’s lives by making it less burdensome for them to make their both ends meet, promise them a better and a healthier life by providing food security to 75 percent of the rural and 50 percent of the urban population while focusing on nutritional requirements of children, lactating and pregnant women.
Authors: Ojasvi Agarwal from Jindal Global Law School, Sonipat and Pravalya kamireddy from Damodaram Sanjeevaiah National Law University, Visakhapatnam.
Editor: Anna Jose Kallivayalil from NLU, Delhi.