By Surangya Kaur
The Indian National Food Security Act, 2013 (also Right to Food Act), was signed into law September 12, 2013, retroactive to July 5, 2013. This law aims to provide subsidized food grains to approximately two thirds of India’s 1.2 billion people. Under the provisions of the bill, beneficiaries are to be able to purchase 5 kilograms per eligible person per month of cereals at the following prices:
- rice at 3 (4.8¢ US) per kg
- wheat at 2 (3.2¢ US) per kg
- coarse grains (millet) at 1 (1.6¢ US) per kg.
Pregnant women, lactating mothers, and certain categories of children are eligible for daily free meals. (~Wikipedia)
The Food Security Bill, a bill intending to distribute food grains to a certain rather large sect of the society at subsidized rates. Sounds familiar don’t you think? Yes it does, because there is a system already in place for that, the Public Distribution System. Has that been very successful that we are already moving on to another? The first thing that comes to mind in answer to that question is the image of godowns overflowing with grains, sacks of grains lying in dilapidated sheds being rendered incapable for consumption with every spell of rain.
With that in mind let’s look at the next aspect of this Bill, the infrastructure, or rather the lack of it. Storage facilities are perhaps the most essential requirement crucial to the success of this policy. Storage facilities are also almost non-existent in our country. Every year we waste food worth 58000 crores. That is more that 40% of the food produced. All this owing to lack of storage. That food is on the one hand capable of wiping away hunger of a myriad of Indians and on the other hand, it is capable of emitting carbon emissions majorly responsible for temperature rises.
The next step of this Bill is the distribution part, the actual implementation through the hands of intermediaries. ‘Intermediaries’ is the key word here. Our government doesn’t directly deal with the people it wants to help, it does so with the help of middlemen. And is there a system to keep a check on how much these middlemen give and how much they keep? There would’ve been one, the Jan Lokpal Bill, had the Congress and BJP not been absolutely petrified at the prospect of there being such a thing.
Now let us look into how much this Bill will cost us: The Food Security Bill if implemented honestly will cost 3% of the GDP in its very first year. Food prices are still elevated and the Bill will aggravate price inflation as it will tilt supply towards cereal and away from other farm produce. Furthermore, higher food subsidy budget will increase the fiscal deficit, again increasing inflation. It is after so long that our economy has begun treading on its journey towards stabilization with wholesale price inflation being at an 8-month low of 5.05% and the fiscal deficit being close to the budgeted target.
Do we really want to put all this at stake for another scheme of the government to pocket our hard-earned money? One senior opposition politician went so far as to describe the bill as a measure for “vote security” (for the ruling government coalition) rather than food security. With all the facts and figures before us and the government’s motives being quite clear, it will be daft to allow the implementation of this Bill. Instead the government should follow up on the schemes and policies already in place and ensure their glitch-free working by perhaps appointing ombudsmen at various junctures.