‘Final proposal minimalist, misses important elements'

After the National Advisory Council (NAC) cleared the food security framework, council member and development economist Jean Drèze issued a dissent note saying that “an opportunity [had] been missed to initiate a radical departure in this field.”

“The NAC proposals [are] a great victory for the government — they allow it to appear to be doing something radical for food security, but it is actually more of the same,” he said.

In the United Progressive Alliance's first tenure, when the Sonia Gandhi-led NAC was formed, Dr. Drèze played a critical role in the formulation of two of its most important programmes — the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the path-breaking Right to Information Act.

He, however, quit halfway through his tenure as he felt that the NAC was not radical enough.

According to Dr. Drèze, the NAC “began its deliberations on a visionary note” but later came under a lot of pressure to accommodate constraints imposed by the government. The final result, he says, is “a minimalist proposal that misses many important elements of food security.”

He feels the Public Distribution System (PDS) framework is “very fragmented and fails to abolish the artificial distinction between APL and BPL households” while adding that it “takes on board food procurement limits that reflect the government's reluctance to expand the PDS over objective constraints.”

“Non-PDS entitlements have been diluted beyond recognition. Entire fields of intervention that are crucial for food security [such as child development services and old age pensions] have been left out of the final proposals,” he points out.

“The NAC seems to be expected to work within constraints imposed by the government that do not leave scope for anything like what is required to address the problem of hunger and under-nutrition in an effective manner. The final National Food Security Act proposals are very disappointing and, on this matter, the NAC has failed in its basic purpose — of imparting a new vision to social policy in India.”

  • Dr. Drèze had helped formulate NREGS, RTI Act
  • ‘PDS framework fails to abolish APL, BPL distinctions'