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NITI Aayog suggests lowering coverage of food security law

  • Category
    Economy
  • Published
    8th Mar, 2021

Context

The NITI Aayog recently circulated a discussion paper to concerned departments and proposed revision in the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013.

Background

  • India is one of the world's biggest crop producers and more than half of its 1.3 billion people rely on agriculture for their livelihoods. 
  • But the major problem faced by India is “the problem of food management and its distribution”.
    • India is the largest producer in the world of milk, ginger, turmeric, and other things.
    • It also has the world’s largest cattle population (281 million). It is the second-largest producer of wheat, rice, sugar, groundnut, and inland fish.
    • It is the third-largest producer of tobacco.
    • India accounts for 10% of the world fruit production with the first rank in the production of bananas.
  • Despite ensuring ample availability of food, the existence of food insecurity at the micro-level in the country has remained a formidable challenge for India.
  • In the recently released 2020 Global Hunger Index, India ranks 94th out of the 107 countries. With a score of 27.2, India has a level of hunger that is serious.
  • In 2010, the government introduced the "Food Security Bill" 2010, which is considered as the biggest ever experiment in the world for distributing highly subsidized food for any government through a "rights-based" approach.
  • The National Food Security Bill after much debate and analysis was passed and became a law on 12th September 2013.
  • According to the United Nations, India shares a quarter of the global hunger burden, and nearly 47 million children not meeting their full potential due to malnutrition.

Analysis

What is the NFSA?

  • Under the Act, each Antyodaya Anna Yojana household, which refers to the poorest sections of the country, is entitled to 35 kg of food grains per month.
  • This policy covers approximately 2.37 crore households or 9.01 crore persons, as on February 1, 2021.
  • Besides, nearly 70.35 crore persons from priority households, or those who hold a ration card, are entitled to 5 kg of food grains per person per month.

Food Security

  • According to NFSA, Food Security is defined as the availability of sufficient food grains to meet the domestic demand as well as access, at the individual level, to adequate means of food at affordable prices.
  • The globally recognized definition of food security is access to food at the household level at all times to ensure a healthy and active life for all its members.

What is the current coverage?

  • Currently, 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population come under NFSA’s coverage.
  • Overall, the Act covers 67% of the country’s total population.

What has been recommended?

Government think tank NITI Aayog has recommended the following:

  • Lowering coverage: Lowering the coverage of both rural and urban population under the National Food Security Act, 2013, to save up to Rs 47,229 crore annually.
    • It suggests reducing the coverage to 60% from the current 75% of the rural population, and to 40% from the current 50% of the urban population.
  • Updating population data: Updating the population level which is currently based on Census 2011.
    • The erstwhile Planning Commission had determined the state-wise coverage ratio of the NFSA based on the rural and urban coverage ratio of 75:50.
    • The coverage ratio has not been revised since the law came into effect on July 5, 2013.
  • Revising coverage ratio: Revising the state/Union Territory-specific coverage ratios and identifying eligible beneficiaries.
  • Niti Aayog’s suggestions come at a time when the food subsidy bill has touched Rs 4,22,618 crore for 2020-21.

Important Reports

  • Shanta Kumar Committee: In the past, the Shanta Kumar Committee, which submitted its report in January 2015 on “Reorienting the role and restructuring of Food Corporation of India”, had recommended reducing the coverage ratio from 67% of the country’s population to 40%.
  • Economic Survey (2020-21): The Economic Survey for 2020-’21 had also recommended a revision of the Central Issue Prices (CIP) of foodgrains released from the central pool, observing that the food subsidy, at its current level of Rs 4,22,618 crore, is becoming “unmanageably large”.

Important Government Programs

To combat this perennial problem of food security, Government did introduce some major program such as:

  • Mid-day meal Scheme: The program provides daily meals to over 120 million children between classes 1 and 8 in all government and government-aided schools with nutritious cooked meals. 
  • Integrated Child Development Services(ICDS): The ICDS provides 100 million children under 6 years of age and pregnant and lactating mothers with cooked meals and take-home rations. 
  • Public food distribution system (PDS): PDS is a system of government-sponsored chain of shops entrusted with the work of distributing basic food and non-food commodities to the needy sections of the society at very cheap prices.
  • Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGS): The Act aims to enhance livelihood security in rural areas by providing at least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.
  • Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY): It is the sponsored scheme of Government of India to provide highly subsidised food to millions of the poorest families. 

Right to Food: A Fundamental Right?

  • Article 39(a) of the Constitution, enunciated as one of the Directive Principles, is fundamental in the governance of the country.
    • It requires the State to direct its policies towards securing that all its citizens have the right to an adequate means of livelihood.
  • While Article 47 spells out the duty of the State to raise the level of nutrition and standard of living of its people as a primary responsibility.
  • The Constitution thus makes the Right to Food a guaranteed Fundamental Right which is enforceable by virtue of the constitutional remedy provided under Article 32 of the Constitution.

Major issues/challenges in ensuring food security

The disappointment in the failure of attainment of food security can mainly be attributed to the:

  • prevalence of inequality among the society
  • unsuccessful delivery of public services
  • pathetic liability system
  • infringement in the implementation of pro-poor policies

What measures are required?

  • Addressing major challenges: India’s food security challenges lie in the areas of low GDP per capita, sufficiency of supply, public expenditure on R&D and protein quality. India needed to address these issues not just for food security, but welfare of rural India, where the majority of people live.
  • Enhancing agricultural sector: Agriculture remains the pre-dominant occupation in India for vast sections of the population. Over the years, several new challenges have emerged before the sector.
    • With fragmentation of agricultural holdings and depletion of water resources, the adoption of a resource-efficient, information and communication technology (ICT) based climate-smart agriculture can enhance agricultural productivity and sustainability.
  • Transparent arrangement: There is a need to shift from the existing expensive, inefficient, and corruption-ridden institutional arrangements to those that will ensure cheap delivery of requisite quality grains in a transparent manner and are self-targeting, g.- Automatic Grain Dispenser or Grain ATM.
  • Ensuring quality food: An organized system of inspecting the quality of food offered in public places.
  • Assessing the real situation: Furthermore, the Government needs to conduct a fresh national survey on food insecurity to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the food security of different sections of the population.
    • A UN World Food Programme (WFP) report indicates a rise in hunger due to the pandemic, with approximately 270 million people facing food insecurity as opposed to the 149 million during pre-COVID times. This is a matter of grave concern.

Value Addition

  • NITI Aayog: The National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog), was formed via a resolution of the Union Cabinet on January 1, 2015.
    • NITI Aayog is the premier policy ‘Think Tank’ of the Government of India, providing both directional and policy inputs.
    • While designing strategic and long term policies and programmes for the Government of India, NITI Aayog also provides relevant technical advice to the Centre and States.
  • Food Corporation of India: FCI is the government agency managing the procurement and distribution of foodgrains.
    • Set up in 1965 under the Food Corporations Act, it is responsible for procurement of foodgrains at MSP, storage and maintenance of adequate buffer stock, and distribution through the public distribution system (PDS).
    • The agency primarily procures foodgrains like wheat and paddy at MSP, which are raised every year in accordance with inflation in cultivation cost of these crops.
  • Minimum Support Price (MP): MSPs are revised every year in line with the recommendations of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices but the sale prices have remained largely untouched.

Conclusion

Food security is the backbone of national prosperity and well-being. The health of any nation is directly linked to food security.

While the Union government has taken various steps to ensure food security through schemes such as the Food Security Act, 2013, the revised coverage ratio will have a huge impact on many rural and urban families. The government must adopt a well-detailed plan to cautiously examine the suggestions of NITI Aayog taking into consideration the number of households that depend on food rations to survive. Their future cannot be compromised.

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