While Congress is keen to pass the Food Security Bill (an election promise of the party), BJP and other opposition parties are determined to stall it. When the bill was tabled in the parliament this week, the opposition members disrupted the House, demanding the PM’s resignation over the ‘coal blocks’ issue. Hyped as a means to alleviate hunger and redress the issue of malnutrition in the country, the bill aims to give legal rights over a uniform quantity of 5 kg food grains at a fixed price of Rs. 1-3 per kg via ration shops to 67 per cent of the population.
What is the bill about?
The National Food Security Bill was originally introduced in Parliament in December 2011. The bill was cleared by a parliamentary committee in January. According to the bill, the beneficiary would get five kg grains per month at the rate of Rs.3 per kg of rice, Rs.2 per kg of wheat and Re.1 per kg of coarse grains. It proposes to eliminate priority and general classification of beneficiaries and to provide uniform allocation. It aims to cover 75 per cent of the rural population and 50 per cent of the poor in urban India which is about 800 million people.
How does it work?
The government plans to use the Public Distribution System (PDS) to deliver the subsidies to the poor and it will thereby be linked to the Aadhar scheme.
Why is the bill important for Congress?
The bill is the brainchild of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and was the focus of the party’s campaign in 2009. By passing the bill, the government would hope for an edge in the 2014 election.
What are the shortcomings of the bill?
Credibility of PDS system, growing cost of food grains and failure to define the beneficiaries are some of the shortcomings of the bill. It is learnt that 51 per cent of the items currently delivered through PDS is lost due to irregularities. Also, the scheme does not define the beneficiaries properly. The bill says that States will provide the list of the poor but they have no such records. So, whether it will reach the right persons is hypothetical. Moreover, to implement this scheme, the total estimated annual food grains requirements will be 61.23 million tones and is likely to cost Rs.1,24,724 crore. Given the rising costs of the scheme and rising population, its sustainability is under question.
What do the critics say?
Critics argue that eradication of malnutrition needs more than just removal of hunger. Food security is necessary but not sufficient for nutrition security.