IOS, FIAN, TCT jointly organise consultation on “National Food Security Act: Challenges in Implementation”
August 5, 2015 at Deputy Chairman Hall, Constitution Club, New Delhi
The Institute of Objective Studies (IOS) in association with FIAN India and The Child Trust organised a consultation on “National Food Security Act: Challenges in Implementation” at the Deputy Chairman Hall, Constitution Club, New Delhi on August 5, 2015. The Chairman of the IOS, Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam in his welcome speech outlined the objectives of the seminar and said that some clarity on the implementation issues related to the National Food Security Act was needed.
Welcome address of Dr. M. Manzoor Alam
Referring to food security, he noted that access to food, its quantity and quality was decided by the politics. He endorsed the ground-breaking theory of Nobel laureate Amartya Sen that hunger, malnutrition and starvation deaths were caused not by insufficient production of food or famine, but because of the lack of access to it and the lack of purchasing power of the poor. He explained the point by saying that famine was not natural, but a man-made phenomenon. The National Food Security Act and a number of policies had sought food for the poor.
Policies like mid-day school meals, highly subsidised food for the poor sold through the public distribution system (PDS), different versions of food for work programme and an assured minimum income from the progammes, like MANREGA, had eased problems, he said. He argued that in India access to food was dependent on one’s location and his/her ethnicity. It was no coincidence that most starvation deaths occurred in remote areas of states like Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. Most of the victims of starvation were Dalits or socially and economically weaker groups, he pointed out.
He noted that food security also depended on the kind of agricultural policy the state enforced and the wages fixed by the government, the extent of access of the farming groups to agricultural inputs and the terms thereon, etc. He pleaded for a discussion on the larger policy-related issues like farm loans from banks, seeds from sharks like Monsanto and Cargil and the environmental sustainability due to the use of chemical fertilisers, organchlorine and organo-phosphate-based pesticides.
Dr. Krishnabir Chaudhary from NFSA and Agriculture, Bhartiya Kisan Union remarked that terms like globalisation and liberalisation sounded promising, but their impact had added to the woes of the poor and the farmers of the country. Their lives had been endangered by multi-national companies. He explained that by advising the farmers to grow coffee instead of grains they had put farmers at a disadvantage as companies like Nestle had left the farmers far behind. He called upon the stakeholders to take a lesson from the machinations of corporate houses. Referring to the National Food Security Act 2013, he said that ration for 87 per cent population had been ensured under it.
While the previous UPA government had earmarked an amount of Rs. 80 thousand crore under the Food Security Act in its budget, the present NDA government had halved the amount in this year’s budget. This explained the Central government’s lack of concern for a large population. As per the current estimate, an amount of Rs. 1.25 lakh crore was required to bring a vast population under the food-security coverage. In order to plug the leakage in the procurement of rations, purchase should be decentralised, he suggested, adding that it should be done at the local level. That would help curb corruption and the amount spent on cartage could be curtailed.
The Vice-President FIAN India and Director, The Child Trust, Ms. Suman explained the provisions of NFSA and opined that the passage of the Act was a national victory. She said that the Act empowered Indians to fight against starvation: Dishing out figures, she said that 19 crore people of the country were suffering from hunger and the rate of mortality among women during delivery was high. Picking up holes in the Act, she said that it was silent over the storage of grains. The Act only provided distribution of food and said nothing about children and old persons. Similarly, homeless people and migrant labourers had been kept out of the purview of the Act. She suggested that the current norm of 5 kgs ration per person should be raised to 7 kgs. This was in keeping with the requirement of a person.
Former Union Minister Bhakt Charan Das in his inaugural speech said that 25 per cent population of the world suffering from hunger lived in India. About 44 per cent children were underweight necessitating measures to ensure that nobody died of starvation. He noted that today 33 per cent people had nutritious food, but the malpractices in distribution was caused at the level of agents. He stressed that the monitoring mechanism should be streamlined at the block, district, state and the central levels for the successful running of the scheme.
Prof. Arshi Khan from the department of political science, Aligarh Muslim University, held that the PDS did not fail, but was made to fail. Referring to the Gopal Singh Report, he said that the government schemes meant for Scheduled Castes/Tribes and minorities failed to benefit them because these communities did not enjoy political safeguards. Also, slum areas inhabited by the Scheduled Castes were better than the slum areas of Muslims. Holding corruption as responsible for faulty implementation of the PDS, he said that what was important was the quality of food supplied to the beneficiaries. He lambasted the Maharshatra government for its move to withdraw mid-day meal scheme from some madarsas categorising them as seminaries imparting only religious education.
Prof. of Law at the Aligarh Muslim University, Dr Zafar Mahfooz Nomani held that law was enforced from the political angle. He charged the corporate sector with opposing MNREGA and the NFSA and said that the enactment of a food law was a positive step towards including it in the fundamental rights.
Mrs. Gauri Chaudhary from Action India made special reference to the rights of women. She complained that women were still being treated as inferior to men whereas they worked three times more than men and were the last to dine. Referring to the food security law, she said that it guaranteed the right to food without right to work. She also expressed concern over decreasing male-female ratio in Haryana.