India has the largest number of hungry people in the world. Despite various programs the number of undernourished people today is same as 20 years ago.
Hunger remains the No.1 cause of death in the world. Over 10 million people die every year of chronic hunger and hunger-related diseases, of which a quarter deaths take place in India. In comparison, less than 10 percent death is claimed by earthquakes, floods, droughts and wars which get the most media attention.
There are 900 million chronically hungry people in the world; one-third of them live in India. Almost 50 percent of Indian children are underweight, 30% of newborn have low weight at birth, and over 55% of married women and about 80% of young babies in the age group 6 - 35 months are anemic.
The problem of malnutrition is complex, multi-dimensional and inter-generational in nature. The varied causes include inadequate consumption of food, frequent infections, lack of availability of safe drinking water and proper sanitation, illiteracy specially in women, poor access to health services, low purchasing power, socio-cultural factors such as early marriages of girls, lack of care during pregnancy and infancy, ignorance about nutritional needs of infants and young children, etc.
Thus , to improve the health conditions and provide food grains to common people at affordable prices, the universal Public Distribution System (PDS) was introduced in India in 1965. It also served the aim of (a) maintaining stability in the prices of essential commodities across regions and (b) keeping a check on private trade, hoarding and black-marketing.
In the mid-nineties the central government begun to see the PDS program as a tool to provide food security to the poor. In 1997, the PDS was converted into Targeted PDS (TPDS) through classification of its population into Above Poverty Line (APL) and Below Poverty Line (BPL) categories. Only those households classified as BPL were made eligible for subsidized purchase of commodities from the ration shops. Since early 2000, it has also recognized the destitute as a separate category among the poor. All this has culminated in food-based security as an entitlement.
But due to poor governance, nothing materialized on the ground. The food crisis is not due to lack of sufficient food grain production, but largely a reflection of government’s misplaced priorities and mismanagement skills.
Thus to improve the food security situation in India National Food Security Act has been promulgated.
The Act provides for coverage of up to 75% of the rural population and up to 50% of the urban population for receiving subsidized food grains under Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), thus covering about two-thirds of the population. Under the Act, the eligible persons will be entitled to receive 5 kgs of food grains per person per month at subsidized prices of Rs. 3/2/1 per Kg for rice/wheat/coarse grains.
To ensure the food security of poorest of poor, the existing Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) households will continue to receive 35 Kgs of foodgrains per household per month. Pregnant women and lactating mothers are entitled to a nutritious "take home ration" of 600 Calories, 18-20 grams of protein and a maternity benefit of at least Rs 6,000 for six months; Children 6 months to 14 years of age are to receive free hot meals or "take home rations".
The Central Government will be responsible to provide funds to states in case of short supplies of food grains; the states are responsible for determining eligibility criteria & will provide a food security allowance to the beneficiaries in case of non-supply of food grains.
In order to address the concern of the States regarding additional financial burden, Central Government will provide assistance to the States towards cost of intra-State transportation, handling of foodgrains and FPS dealers’ margin, for which norms will be developed. This will ensure timely transportation and efficient handling of food grains.
The Public Distribution System is to be reformed like doorstep delivery of foodgrains, application of information and communication technology (ICT) including end to end computerisation, leveraging ‘Aadhaar’ for unique identification of beneficiaries, diversification of commodities under TPDS etc for effective implementation of the Food Security Act. Some of these reforms are already underway.
The eldest woman in the household, 18 years or above, is the head of the household for the issuance of the ration card;There will be state- and district-level redress mechanisms; and State Food Commissions will be formed for implementation and monitoring of the provisions of the Act. Provisions have also been made for disclosure of records relating to PDS, social audits and setting up of Vigilance Committees in order to ensure transparency and accountability. The cost of the implementation is estimated to be $22 billion(1.25 lac crore), approximately 1.5% of GDP.
Other Welfare Schemes under NFSA 2013
The Act contains entitlements for meal to pregnant women and lactating mothers and for children up to 14 years of age, through the ongoing ICDS and MDM schemes. The MDM scheme provides hot cooked meals to all children (10.54 crore children in 2011-12) attending classes I-VIII in government and government aided-schools, Education Guarantee Scheme/Alternative and Innovative Education Centres (EGS/AIE). This scheme is run primarily with a view to enhance enrolment, retention, attendance and to also improve nutritional levels among primary school students. The Wheat Based Nutrition Programme (WBNP), run under the ICDS, is implemented by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, which provides nutritious/energy food to children below the age of six years and to expectant/lactating women. Even though the scheme is referred to as a wheat-based nutrition scheme, more than 30 per cent of grains allocated to this scheme are in terms of rice.
Latest Initiatives by the Governments
Supreme Courts review of the Act
The ultimate objective of development planning is human development or to increase social welfare and well-being of the people. Increased social welfare of the people requires a more equitable distribution of development benefits along with better living environment.
NFSA gives a legal character to per person entitlement. In the case of non-supply of the entitlement, the centre commits to giving a food security allowance. Based on population coverage and the distribution commitment, TPDS forms the largest component of the NFSA. There are two types of TPDS beneficiaries under NFSA – namely Antyodaya (AAY or the poorest-of-poor) and priority – who are entitled to 35 kg/family/month and to 5 kg/person/month of grain respectively. Rice, wheat and coarse cereals are to be distributed at the central issue prices (CIPs) of Rs 3/2/1 per kg respectively.
Providing food security to all can be a step forward towards inclusive growth.