Congress President Sonia Gandhi has formally sent the proposed National Food Security bill to the government on behalf of the National Advisory Council (NAC) that she chairs. Setting all doubts at rest about where she stands, the bill explicitly seeks that the subsidized rations be provided to at least 90% of rural population, and 50% of urban India.
It urges the government to ensure that at least 46% and 28% of rural and urban Indian population, respectively, become ‘priority’ beneficiaries, who should get rice at Rs 3, wheat at Rs 2 and millets at Rs 1 a kg. Rest of the beneficiaries would get the foodgrains at half the minimum support price for the year offered to farmers while buying their produce.
Going against the grain of the PMO , Planning Commission and the food ministry’s suggestions on these and other issues raised during the discussions, the NAC-ratified bill also turns the nutrition-related elements of the Integrated Child Development Scheme and the mid-day meal scheme into legal rights. It bats for legal rights for children to be fed at anganwadis while expressly banning the use of contractors in the business. Special provisions for the homeless, destitute and migrants have also been provided to safeguard the vulnerable groups. The proposed bill enjoys Sonia’s full support for a wider coverage, and also turns the existing schemes into entitlements.
To ensure that government doesn’t tinker with the larger provisions of the bill, all these stipulations have been kept as a part of the main legislation and not as attached schedules. It also has a provision that would disallow governments to change the rates at which the subsidized grains are offered for 10 years after the bill is turned into a law.
While the bill keeps the option open of using new technologies like smart cards, its provisions ensure that cash transfers based on open market purchase by beneficiaries do not replace the public distribution system.
It provides for the states creating a starvation protocol, and not taking a strict post-mortem route while determining starvation deaths.
NAC’s proposal calls for creating a national food commission at the centre and state food commissions, which will oversee the implementation of the act and be vested with the powers of a civil court to hold enquiries. The central commission will be able to investigate with the help of police only after it manages to obtain prior permission from the Centre.
Any government official falling foul of the law by the district grievance redress system or state or national commission would be liable to pay up to Rs 5,000 as penalty from h/his salary.
Now, it’s up to the government to finalize a draft so that it can be introduced in Parliament’s monsoon session as had been suggested earlier. Economic Times