New Delhi: The government on Thursday tabled in the Lok Sabha a landmark bill that seeks to provide cheaper foodgrain to over half of India's 1.2 billion population and ensure that people "live a life with dignity".

Food Minister KV Thomas introduced the National Food Security Bill, 2011, "to provide for food and nutritional security by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices". Thomas said that the bill will ensure people of India get "to live a life with dignity".

The Union Cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on Sunday approved the Bill, a pet project of Congress president Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC).

It promises 75 percent of rural population and 50 percent of urban households the right to 7 kg foodgrains per person per month, at Rs 3 per kg for rice, Rs 2 per kg for wheat and Rs 1 per kg for coarse grains to the priority beneficiaries.

It will also provide rations or cooked meals to children under 14 years of age and destitutes, including women and persons on the margins of society.

 

Anomalies galore in Food Security Bill!

Though the government is in a big hurry to bring the Food Security Bill amid the hovering clouds of corruption, price rise and upcoming elections to be held in five states, the lack of foodgrain can be a major hurdle in realisation of its policy.

While the challenges of the identification of poor for ensuring food distribution and fears of the food mafia are already being faced by the government regarding the new food scheme but absence of a concrete provision in the Bill for the amount of foodgrain required to be distributed on subsidized rates is a major issue of concern.

The Ministry of Agriculture has already conveyed its concerns to the government.

The Food Security Bill would require 5.5 crore-6.10 crore tonnes of foodgrain to feed the nation’s poor populace. For the record, the average government purchase of foodgrain in last seven years has been 4.85 crore tonne. However, there was a record purchase of 6.23 crore tonne of foodgrain in 2010-2011.

A major problem would arise if the country faces a drought, flood or any other calamity that may affect the production of foodgrain.

The smaller land holdings and ill-effects of climate change on crop production would also play a deterrent in the implementation of the Food Security Bill. With contracting farmlands and lack of other agricultural resources, fulfilling the demand of expected amount of foodgrain would be an unachievable target.

As a result, Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar has asked the Centre to increase public investment in agriculture to produce the additional 2.5 crore tonne of foodgrain. Pawar has written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for Rs 1.10 lakh crore of investment in the agricultural sector.

The reality is that 67 percent of the total agriculture in the country is still dependant on seasonal monsoon. Since irrigation was dropped from the priorities of the government after the 5th Five Year Plan, no heed was paid to the irrigation projects.

Smaller fields, lack of irrigation, reducing yield and climate change affecting production have termed agriculture as a dying trade for the farmers. Moreover, the increasing tendency of farmers’ suicides is the biggest problem farming sector is facing.

The last five years have witnessed a rise in the crop production due to investment under the National Agriculture Development Programme and National Food Security Mission. On this basis, the Agricultural Ministry has asked the Central government for more investment in the sector.

JPN/Bureau