In December 2011, National Food Security Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha for the first time to address the issue of food security in a comprehensive manner and with an aim “To provide for food and nutritional security in human life cycle approach, by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices to people to live a life with dignity and for matter connected therewith or incidental thereto.”

On the basis of the report of Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution, the Union Cabinet cleared the bill on 4th July 2013 and paved a way to make the framework of the proposed legislation simpler by providing more flexibility to States/ Union territories in its implementation and to address some of the important concerns relating to food security. Major highlights of the Bill are discussed hereunder:

  • Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS):
    The Bill has made provision for the State Government to provide 5 kilograms of food grains per person per month at subsidized prices to person belonging to priority households. Here the word “Priority household” means Households identified by the State Government.
  • Antyodaya Anna Yojana:
    A National Sample Survey Exercise points towards the fact that about 5% of the total population in India sleeps without two square meals a day. Their purchasing power is so low that they are not in a position to buy food grains round the year even at BPL rates. “Antyodaya Anna Yojana” which was launched by the Government of India on 25th December, 2000 specifically targets this 5% population and provides subsidized foodgrains to them. With the current modification in the bill, households that come under this scheme will be provided with 35 kgs of foodgrains per household per month as allotted by the Central Government to the respective States.
  • Maternity Benefits:
    Every pregnant mother and lactating mother will be provided with free meal during pregnancy and 6 months after child birth by the local anganwadis along with maternity benefit of not less than Rs 6000/-.
  • Free meal to Children:
    Children between the age group of 6 months to 6 years as well as children suffering from malnutrition will be provided with free meal by the local anganwadis and children between 6 to 14 years will be provided with one free mid day meal in school except on school holidays to meet the nutritional need of the children.
  • Food Security Allowance:
    The Bill has also made provision for providing food security allowance to the persons who have not received any of the benefits in accordance to the above
  • mentioned schemes.
  • Eligible households:
    Corresponding to the coverage of 75% of rural and 50 % of urban population at all India level, State wise coverage will be determined by the Planning Commission. The work of identification of eligible households is left to the States/UTs, which may frame their own criteria or use Social Economic and Caste Census data. Special concern must be paid to the needs of vulnerable group especially in hilly and tribal areas.
  • Reforms in Public Distribution System:
    The bill has made provision for doorstep delivery of foodgrains, application of information and communication technology (ICT) including end to end computerization, leveraging ‘Aadhaar’ for unique identification of beneficiaries, diversification of commodities under TPDS and full transparency of records for effective implementation of the Food Security Act.
  • Women Empowerment:
    Eldest woman of eighteen years of age or above will be head of the household for issue of ration card, and if not available, the eldest male member is to be the head of the household.
  • Grievance Redressal Mechanism:
    There will be a redressal mechanism which will be implemented at the state as well as at the district level, including provisions for establishing call centre and helpline with designated nodal officers. State Food Commission will also be established in order to monitor and review implementation of this act. The States will be allowed to use the existing machinery for District Grievance Redressal Officer, State Food Commission, if they so desire, to save expenditure on establishment of new redressal set up.
  • Subsidized Prices and their revision:
    Uniform prices of Rs. 3/2/1 per kg for rice/wheat/coarse grains will be applicable to all eligible beneficiaries. It is proposed to fix these prices for the first three years of implementation of the Act.
  • Responsibility of Central Government, State Government & local authority:
    In case of non supply of food grains to the State Government, the Central Government will be responsible to provide funds to overcome short supply so as to meet the obligations. The State Government is responsible to implement the schemes of various ministries under the guidelines of Central Government. The local authorities will be responsible for the implementation of these schemes in a particular area entrusted upon them.
  • Transparency and accountability of records:
    There should be transparency of records in regard to the work undertaken and implementation of schemes and to meet such requirement, provisions have been made for disclosure of records relating to PDS, social audits and setting up of Vigilance Committees.
  • Penalty for non compliance:
    The Bill provides for penalty to be imposed on public servants or authority, if found guilty of failing to comply with the relief recommended by the District Grievance Redressal Officer.
  • States to get assistance for intra-State transportation and handling of food grains:
    In order to address the concern of the States regarding additional financial burden, Central Government will provide assistance to the States towards cost of intra- State transportation, handling of food grains and FPS dealers’ margin. This will ensure timely transportation and efficient handling of food grains.
    Discussion on minutes and other documents, notice received by the company, leave of absence, attendance sheet and disclosure under Section 299 of Companies Act is also required.

Conclusion

In a recent survey, it was deduced that 22% of the Indian population is undernourished whereas 40% of children below the age of 3yrs are underweight, majority of children aged between 6 to 35 months are anaemic and 33% of the women aged between 15-49 yrs have a BMI below normal. The growth rate and the immunity level of the Indian population have been declining considerably throughout these years. In the current Indian scenario, Food Security Bill is a blessing for the Indian populace who do not have the knowledge as well as access to nutritional food. The bill has however left an open house for discussion by not providing a specific limit for identification of eligible households under Public Distribution System which has been left on the discretion of the government. With the implementation of the Food Security Bill, Indians can have a gleam of hope that their fight for “right to food” will possibly come to an end. It can be suggested, that with the introduction of this Bill, India can guarantee majority of its population quality foodgrains to meet with the above mentioned deficiencies and provide the rightly deserved nutritional security to everyone.