Statement from Right to Food campaign on proposed changes in Food Security Act

January 29, 2015

REJECT SHANTA KUMAR COMMITTEE’S RECOMMENDATIONS:

RESIST REDUCTION IN COVERAGE FROM 67% to 40% OF INDIA’s POPULATION AND INCREASE IN PRICES

PROTECT PEOPLE’S ENTITLEMENTS TO FOOD: STRENGTHEN THE NFSA

The National Food Security Act (NFSA) seems to be the next target of this Government which has initiated a process of amending and diluting laws that exist for the protection of the rights of the poor and excluded in our country. First, it was the labour laws and mining laws and then the Land Acquisition Act. Now it is the turn of the NFSA and NREGA.

If the Government accepts the Shanta Kumar Committee’s recommendations for decreasing the coverage under NFSA (from 67% to 40%) and shifting from PDS to cash transfers over the next few years, they will be going back on the promises made by them in Parliament and in the BJP election manifesto. The Committee also recommends increasing of prices from the current Rs. 3 for rice and Rs. 2 for wheat to a price of which is 50% of the MSP. This would be a 3-4 fold increase in the price at which subsidised foodgrains are available from the PDS.

In fact, we would like to remind Shri. Narendra Modi that as the Chief Minister of Gujarat in his September 2013 letter to then Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh on the NFSA he had specifically lamented against potential increases in prices, “I am further saddened to note that as per the proposed pricing structure for the grain, the BPL family will now have to incur Rs 85 more net expenditure per month for availing 35 kg [of grain].”

During the debate on the NFSA on the floor of the Parliament in 2013, many BJP leaders had criticised the then government for bringing in a minimalist legislation. The BJP leaders had then introduced amendments towards universalising PDS benefits to ensure that “every person” shall be entitled to food grains, increasing the quantity of grains and include pulses and oils. Now that they are in a majority in Parliament, it is time for them to ensure that these provisions are included in the Act and not to dilute even the little that has been gained through the NFSA.

Further Finance Minister Arun Jailey, on the floor of the Rajya Sabha during the passage of the law had berated the previous government “you have infact cut down the number of people.”

BJP needs to live up to its manifesto promise of ensuring universal food security. The BJP manifesto states, “BJP has always held that ‘universal food security’ is integral to national security. BJP will take steps to ensure that the benefits of the scheme reach the common man and that the right to food does not remain an act on paper or a political rhetoric…”

Making these changes would only cause a lot of confusion on the ground and result in the greater leakages. The states have only now started to seriously identify and issue new ration cards based on the NFSA. Many states are yet to begin the process. Even with the expanded coverage it is being seen in state after state that is it very difficult to come with an  identification criteria and process that will have minimal inclusion and exclusion errors.

Given the extent of hunger and malnutrition and low levels of living, a targeted programme with low coverage (the committee proposes 40%) is bound to fail. In fact, what is required is a move towards a universal PDS. India continues to rank very low in the Global Hunger Index (55th) and Human Development Index (135th). According to the latest NSS estimates (2011-12) 40% of people in rural areas have a consumption expenditure of less than about Rs. 30 a day.

Introducing cash transfers in the place of PDS will have serious negative implications on food security. Further, cash transfers do not automatically solve either the problem of targeting or of leakages. Infact BJP member of parliament Sushma Swaraj had specifically moved an amendment on the floor of the Lok Sabha to “remove the provision of cash transfer and food coupons in lieu of foodgrains entitlements.” [See Note on Replacing PDS with Cash Transfers].

It does not make any sense to talk about diluting the PDS at a time when states are initiating reforms to strengthen the PDS including door-step delivery of food grains, de-privatisation of ration shops, decentralized procurement, social audits and increased transparency. Indeed, states where such reforms have now been in place for some time such as Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Odisha and Chhattisgarh are showing lower leakages than others. What is required at this time is a strong message from the central government that there cannot be any further delays in the implementation of the NFSA.

Along with the PDS, the NFSA also has promised universal maternity benefits which we hope to see being rolled out in the upcoming budget. It has been over a year since the NFSA has been passed. By repeatedly delaying the deadline for its implementation, the Government has in fact been violating the Act. There is no meaning to the Parliament passing laws if they can so easily be violated by Governments.

We appeal to the Prime Minister, not to go back on the NFSA and remind Shri. Narendra Modi of his letter to then Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh on the NFSA where he lamented the fact that the Food Security Ordinance is too minimalistic and “does not assure an individual of having two meals a day”. Rather than watering down the very little that has been included in the legislation, with the Delhi elections round the corner, it is time that the new government not indulge in doublespeak.*.

For more information please contact Kavita Srivastava (9351562965), Dipa Sinha (9650434777) or Alokika Singh (9717852311)

We are,
Members of the Steering Group, Right to Food Campaign
Kavita Srivastava and Dipa Sinha, Convenors, Steering Committee of Right to Food Campaign

National Networks
Jean Drez, VB Rawat (Former Support Group)
Annie Raja, (National Federation for Indian Women)
Colin Gonsalves , (Human Right Law Network)
Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey and Anjali Bhardwaj, (National Campaign for People’s Right to Information)
Madhuresh, Arundhati Dhuru and Ulka Mahajan (National Alliance of People’s Movements)
Asha Mishra and Kashinath Chatterjee (Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti)
Ashok Bharti (National Conference of Dalit Organizations)
Anuradha Talwar, Gautam Modi and Madhuri Krishnaswamy (New Trade Union Initiative)
Binayak Sen (People’s Union for Civil Liberties)
Subhash Bhatnagar (National Campaign Committee for Unorganized Sector workers)
Paul Divakar and Asha Kowtal (National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights)
Mira Shiva, Radha Holla and Vandana Prasad (Jan Swasthya Abhiyan)
Ranjeet Kumar Verma, Prahlad Ray, Praveen Kumar, Anand Malakar (Rashtriya Viklang Manch)
Lali Dhakar, Sarawasti Singh, Shilpa Dey and Radha Raghwal (National Forum for Single Women’s Rights)
G V Ramanjaneyulu, Kavita Kuruganthi (Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture)
Jashodhara (National Alliance for Maternal Health and Human Rights)
Ilango (National Fishworkers Federation)
Zasia, Sonam, and Noor Jehan (Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan)
Mayank Sinha, National Network on Nomadic and Denotified Nomadic Tribes
State Representatives M Kodandram, Rama Melkape, Veena Shatrughana (Andhra Pradesh)
Gangabhai and Samir Garg (Chhattisgarh)
Abhay Kumar (Karnataka)
Suresh Sawant, Mukta Srivastava (Maharashtra)
Balram and James Herenj, Gurjeet Singh, Dheeraj (Jharkhand)
Ashok Khandelwal, Shyam and Vijay Lakshmi (Rajasthan)
Sachin Jain (Madhya Pradesh)
Sejal Dand, Neeta Hardikar and (Gujarat)
Saito Basumaatary, Raju Narzari, Bondita Acharya and Sunil Kaul (Assam)
Rupesh, (Bihar)
V Suresh (Tamil Nadu)
Bidyut Mohanty Raj Kishore Mishra, (Orissa)
Bindu Singh, Sabina and Richa (Uttar Pradesh)
Pushpa, Dharmendra, Ramendra, Yogesh, Vimla and Sarita (Delhi)
Fr Jothi SJ and Mr. Saradindu (West Bengal)
Biraj Patnaik, Harsh Mander, Reetika Khera, Manas Ranjan, Vidya Bhushan Rawat, Jean Dreze, Ankita Aggarwal, Swati Narayan and Ritu Priya