Right to Food Campaign—a conglomeration of civil society groups — on Tuesday held a day-long protest at Jantar Mantar here, raising seven questions with MPs on the proposed National Food Security Bill, particularly in relation to people going hungry when the country has surplus food stocks.
Rejecting the proposed amendments to the Bill that might reduce beneficiaries and entitlements under the Public Distribution System (PDS), they sought to know why a food security bill is needed.
They assailed the government for minding the food subsidy that will accrue from a universal distribution of cheap grains in the PDS “when the greed of politicians of all hues had made the country lose thousands of crores of rupees in the allocation of coal blocks, 2G scam, Delhi airport scandal and corruption in the Commonwealth Games.’’
Pressing the demand for a universal public distribution system, the activists questioned need for a national food security law disregarding the fact that targeting of programmes had failed. On the other hand, they said, universal or near-universal public distribution systems as in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Chhattisgarh and the KBK districts of Odisha were functioning better with fewer leakages and benefits reaching the poor. Instead of meeting only a fraction of the requirement of the poor through the PDS, the government should — if it must target the programme — provide at least 50 kg of food grains to every eligible family every month, they said.
Rejecting outright the latest proposal to reduce the entitlements of eligible families and the coverage, the activists said this meant that irrespective of their incidence of poverty and the distribution of rural and urban areas, the country would have 33 per cent of the population excluded from the PDS. Whereas, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has shown that the nutrition requirements of a family of five, comprising two adults, two children, an elderly person/third child is 48.2 kg of cereals a month.
“The Centre’s alternative proposal has whittled down the grievance redress mechanism and removed all new food-related schemes suggested in the Bill, such as community kitchens for the urban poor, destitute feeding centres and free meals for people living in starvation,” the activists bemoaned. “Providing each household with 50 kg of grains is possible without a national law. The country needs to produce more grains and the government needs to procure more and not only from traditional States but in a de-centralised manner from every producing State. Along with this, subsidised pulses and cooking oil should be provided.”
Justifying the additional subsidy that would accrue if the government were to distribute 50 kg a household, the campaign said “it would be mere one-fifth of the tax waiver of Rs. 5 lakh crore that the government gives to the corporate sector.”
Hundreds of people from 15 States participated in the day-long sit-in to press for a universal PDS and related measures to take care of nutrition requirements of pregnant women, elderly people, single women and people with disabilities, among others.