Explained: National Food Security Act

Reading time: 8-10 minutes.

News about the ‘One Nation-One Ration Card’ scheme is being circulated ever since the Food and Public Distribution Minister Mr Ram Vilas Paswan announced on May 1, 2020 in a tweet, that five more states have joined the ‘One Nation-One Ration Card’ system. The number of states under this system has risen to 17, wherein 12 states were already integrated to the system as of January 1, 2020. Integrated Management of Public Distribution System (IM-PDS) scheme is implemented since 2018.

This scheme’s objective is to introduce nation-wide portability of ration card holders under National Food Security Act, 2013 (NFSA) through ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ system. The ration card holders will be able to get their entitled food grains from any Fair Price Shop (FPS) of their choice and convenience in the country by using their existing/same ration card issued in their home States/ UTs after biometric authentication on electronic Point of Sale (ePoS) devices installed at the FPSs under this system.

This system holds imminent importance during these times of lockdown, where the migrant labourers will be able to access subsidised food away from home.

Salient features of the act:

  • Coverage and entitlement under Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS): The TDPS covers 50% of the urban population and 75% of the rural population, with uniform entitlement of 5 kg per person per month. However, the poorest of the poor households will continue to receive 35 kg per household per month under Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY).
  • State-wise coverage: The Central Government determines the state-wise coverage. The then Planning Commission used NSS Household Consumption Survey data in 2011-2012 to determine the State-wise coverage. They also provided the State-wise “inclusion ratios”.
  • Subsidised prices under TPDS and their revision: For a period of three years from the date of commencement of the Act, Food grains under TPDS will be made available at subsidised prices of Rs. 3/2/1 per kg for rice, wheat and coarse grains.
  • Identification of Households: The identification of eligible households is to be done by States/UTs under TDPS determined for each State.
  • Nutritional Support to women and children: Children in the age group of 6 months to 14 years and pregnant women and lactating mothers will be entitled to meals as per prescribed nutritional norms under Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and Mid-Day Meal (MDM) schemes. Malnourished children up to the age of 6 have been prescribed for higher nutritional norms.
  • Maternity Benefit: Pregnant women and lactating mothers will also be receiving maternity benefit of Rs. 6,000.         
  • Women Empowerment: For the purpose of issuing of ration cards, eldest woman of the household of age 18 years or above is to be the head of the household.
  • Grievance Redressal Mechanism: Grievance redressal mechanism available at the District and State levels.
  • Cost of transportation & handling of food grains and FPS Dealers’ margin : the expenditure incurred by the state on transportation of food grains within the State, its handling and FPS dealers’ margin as per norms to be devised for this purpose and assistance to states will be provided by the Central Government to meet the above expenditure.
  • Transparency and Accountability: In order to ensure transparency and accountability, provisions have been made for disclosure of records relating to PDS, social audits and setting up of Vigilance Committees.
  • Food Security Allowance: In case of non-supply of entitled food grains or meals, there is a provision for food security allowance to entitled beneficiaries.
  • Penalty: If the public servant or authority fails to comply with the relief recommended by the District Grievance Redressal Officer, penalty will be imposed by the State Food Commission according to the provision.

Why was it introduced?

Hunger is the common enemy of all of us. In order to defeat it, we need to have food which is the basic need for all of us. According to FAO of UN, ‘food security’ is a situation when all people at all times have sufficient food to meet their dietary and nutritional needs to lead a healthy and productive life. The food should also be affordable. The Indian Government, after realising that wide-spread poverty is a major threat to food security, introduced this Act to ensure food to the poor and the poorest of the poor. It is a paradigm shift from welfare based approach to right base approach as these food grains at the subsidized price are given as legal entitlement i.e. right to food.

 84 million people in India still live under poverty. Their income is so less that they cannot afford to buy food grains sold at the stores. There are many people who can afford only the highly subsidised food. Almost two-thirds of India’s population is covered under this Act.

This Act was introduced to provide for food and nutritional security in human life cycle approach, by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices to live a life with dignity.

For a country like India where almost 40% of the children are undernourished, such an Act would definitely bring in food security for meeting domestic demand. This Act also aims to support lactating mothers, pregnant women and children.

Progress made under it:

  • Implementation of this Act has enhanced procurement in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Assam of Eastern India where concerns exist about distress sale of paddy. It is conducive to the development of those areas.
  • Abolition of Levy System: Paddy is directly purchased from the farmers abolishing levy system. This is of high benefits to the farmers.
  • Fortification of Staple Food: A strategy of Fortification of Food has been adopted to address acute malnutrition in the population. Standards were set for staples like Wheat flour, rice, milk, salt and edible oil to help people overcome malnutrition.
  • Wheat-Rice Policy: States, which annually procure more wheat or rice than their

present annual entitlement/demand for wheat and rice respectively, will be allocated the preferred food grains as per their requirement in the normal NFSA allocation i.e. AAY.

  • Food grain Stocking Norms which were earlier called as the Buffer Norms, are revised to meet the prescribed minimum stocking norms for food security, to ensure monthly release of food grain for supply through the National Food Security Act/ Other Welfare Schemes, to meet emergency situations arising out of unexpected crop failure, natural disasters etc.
  • Deletion of ration cards: 2.75 crore ration cards have been deleted due to de-duplication as result of Aadhaar seeding, transfer/migration/deaths, change in economic status of beneficiaries. Ration cards are now digitized. This deletion will ensure rightful targeting of food subsidies.
  • Direct Benefit Transfer (Cash): Food subsidy is directly credited to the account of the beneficiaries under Cash Transfer of Food Subsidy Rules, 2015.
  • Aadhaar Seeding in PDS: As on 29th May, 2018, 19.41 crore ration cards have been Aadhaar seeded to remove duplicate or ineligible or bogus ration cards which will help in rightful targeting.
  • Automation of Fair Price Shops: This prevents pilferage and brings in transparency in distribution of ration among the beneficiaries under NFSA.
  • Digital/Cashless/Less-cash Payments in PDS: To promote the use of less cash to have transparency, 100% digitization of ration cards ensured computerised supply chain management system and online allocation of food grains.
  • ‘Integrated Management of PDS’ (IM-PDS) scheme: Under the system of ‘one nation, one ration card’ national level portability of ration card can be implemented.
  • Construction of Godowns: Total storage capacity has been increased.
  • Silos- Use of modern technology in storage: 100 lakh MT storage capacity in the form of Steel Silos by FCI and other agencies including State Governments for wheat and rice.
  • Supply of Food grains as humanitarian assistance: 1.10 lakh MT of wheat was supplied to Afghanistan as donation.
  • Depot Online system: It was launched to bring all operations of FCI Godowns online and to check leakages and automate operations at depot level.
  • Food grain allocation to ensure adequate standards of nutrition in welfare institutions and SC/ST/OBC Hostels.

Critical analysis

The critical analysis of the Act reveals the following points –

  • Millions of beneficiaries were denied their food grain entitlement for over more than a year due to the inability of State governments to identify the beneficiaries quickly. The implementation was delayed for over more than a year from the time of its implementation.
  • Lack of universal maternity benefits: NFSA mandated the Central Government to provide all pregnant and lactating mothers a hot meal at the nearest anganwadi and a cash entitlement of Rs 6000. In Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana (IGMSY) pregnant women and lactating mothers in 53 pilot districts were given only Rs 4000, however, they updated the amount to Rs 6000 according to NFSA but confined to 53 states and did not make it universal for entire India. Necessary steps must be taken it make it universal.
  • NFSA only provides seasonal employment. It hires large scale labourers during procurement seasons and they are not required during off season. These labourers receive less than minimum wages and are not protected by any social security scheme. It is the government’s responsibility to provide these labourers with other kinds of employment during off seasons and they should be protected by social security scheme.
  • The real women empowerment is not seen. Even though women above eighteen years under this scheme are considered as head of the households, use of food grains is still found to be decided by adult men. Thus, women only play a proxy role.
  • The Food Security Models of the states of Chhattisgarh and Tamil Nadu are better than NFSA. As of 2012, Tamil Nadu eradicated 60% of poverty gap and Chhattisgarh wiped out 40% of poverty gap, due to implicit and extraordinary transfers through PDS. Tamil Nadu Government succeeded in food security because of its efficient PDS. In 2011, when this started, Tamil Nadu Government distributed free rice to all rice card and other ration at subsidized rates. It is a success because of the low amount of leakage and the Fair Price Shops are well monitored. Their main strategies are Universal PDS, a price stabilisation fund for procurement of essential commodities and distribution of essential commodities at a subsidised rate.
  • The distribution of food grains is heavily relied on PDS. There is around 40% to 50% of leakage. The food grains are pilfered and are directed to open market. Steps must be taken to monitor PDS more efficiently to prevent any kind of leakages.
  • Devolution of taxes to the States upto 10% does not mean that it is beneficial to the states. The centre reduced the number of Centrally Sponsored Schemes from 66 to 30 by altering the funding pattern. This means the State Governments have an additional expenditure of 40%. The Centre should not over burden the states like this, and instead, should support them with more funds.
  • The system of ‘one nation, one ration card’ is a theoretically a good one but there is no assurance if it will work 100%. Implementation of it is a big question. Particularly during the times of pandemic when lockdown is implemented, there is less production of food grains. It cannot be denied that the migrant labourers are in dire need of food grains but, the question is if the state has the capacity to provide food grains to ration card holders from other states?
  • The main ration distributed are rice, wheat and dals. Pulses which have nutrient values are not given importance. There should be distribution of more pulses for nutritional security.

Conclusion

Since Independence, India is striving hard to achieve food security. Thousands of people have died of hunger so far. The Food Security Bill was a landmark bill. The National Food Security Act, 2013 has ambitious proposals but it miserably lacks efficient implementation. If it was not for the corrupted Targeted Public Distribution System (TDPS), the Act would have been successful in its implementation. Leakages are another reason for its unsuccessful implementation. It is also seen that many States/UTs are sluggish in their approach towards NFSA. This has to be changed. We need to fight hunger together and take necessary steps for achieving Food Security by making NFSA a success.

Author: Rupa Veena S from School Of Law, Christ (Deemed To Be University), Bangalore.

Editor: Avani Laad from Symbiosis Law School, Pune.

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