The Right to Food Campaign on Tuesday appealed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to set aside the government draft of the Food Security Bill which “minimises government's obligations, restricts people's entitlements and is devoid of any accountability”. Rejecting the government's draft Bill, the Campaign gave a national call for action.
In an open letter to the Prime Minister, the Campaign said the draft Bill approved by the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) had no commitment towards nutritional security or to see production, procurement (including local procurement), storage and distribution as an integrated process in order to address issues of food and nutritional security.
The Campaign, which is a conglomeration of several social activist groups, said the Bill interprets food security only as distribution of cereals and cooked meals and is completely silent on distribution of pulses, millets and oil under the public distribution system (PDS).
Coming down heavily on the proposed cash transfers (in lieu of foodgrains), the Campaign asserted that this was meant to pave the way for the entry of organised retail into the country. Giving cash without ensuring proper food availability was putting people at the mercy of food retailers and cartels which could lead to greater corruption than the projected leakages in the PDS, apart from putting the farmers at risk.
Opposing the move to leverage Aadhaar for unique identification numbers, the Campaign apprehended that this would impinge on the civil liberties of the citizens and was a means of tracking and surveillance.
Seeking universalisation of the PDS entitlement, the Campaign said the problems related to identification of the below poverty line households and exclusion errors were well known. The draft Bill not only links the entitlements to the poverty ratios, but also further dilutes what was even suggested by the National Advisory Council.
While the NAC proposed 90 per cent coverage of the rural population, the government has reduced it to 75 per cent. Furthermore, while the NAC proposed 4 kilogram per head for those in the ‘general' category, the government's Bill reduces it to 3 kg per head. “What is even more dangerous is that by specifying that the division between ‘priority' and ‘general' categories will be based on `poverty ratios', the government's Bill has paved the way for the coverage ‘priority' groups to shrink over time.”
The Campaign emphasised the need to strengthen the PDS through universalisation and reforms. This must be coupled with expanded and decentralised procurement. “Lack of funds cannot be an excuse when the government is forgoing revenue worth Rs.5 lakh crore annually by giving taxbreaks to the corporate sector and income tax payers, through excise, customs and sales tax reduction,” it said.
Campaign members regretted that the draft Bill gave full powers to the Centre to modify or withdraw most entitlements, thus putting the guarantee of food security at the mercy of the government while bypassing Parliament.
Among the signatories are Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey (National Campaign for People's Right to Information), Kavita Srivastava and Binayak Sen (People's Union for Civil Liberties), Annie Raja (National Federation for Indian Women), Jean Dreze, Anuradha Talwar, Gautam Modi and Madhuri Krishnaswamy (New Trade Union Initiative), Arun Gupta (Breast Feeding Promotion Network of India) and Arundhati Dhuru (National Alliance of People's Movements).