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National Food Security Bill under Fire

Richa Kachhwaha
10 Jun 2013 11:28 AM GMT
National Food Security Bill under Fire
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With no political consensus on UPA’s National Food Security Bill in sight, the government is reportedly working towards bringing an ordinance to implement the Bill. The Food Bill aims to supply subsidized food to India’s 67 per cent of the underprivileged population. Primarily, the Bill seeks to provide a uniform monthly legal entitlement to 5 kg food grains per person at Rs. 1-3 per kg. The Bill, which was hastily approved by the Union Cabinet, was tabled by the Government in the Parliament on May 6 amid “an unprecedented din”.

Although at first glance, the Bill seeks to promote an inclusive development for India’s poor, it fails to provide for the distribution of the very resources it talks about! While it does legislate for specific amounts of food grains to be distributed to needy families, it fails to give detail on how it plans to ensure this allocation. The Right to Food Campaign - an umbrella of NGOs- has asked the government to discuss the Food Security Bill in Parliament instead of opting for an Ordinance.

It is pertinent to note that the power to promulgate an Ordinance is an emergency power, to be used as and when immediate action is necessary at a time when the Legislature is not in session. Although, in general the motive behind issuing an Ordinance cannot be called in question, at the same time the Courts cannot allow it to be ‘perverted for political ends’.  The Supreme Court once famously observed, “The Ordinance making power of the executive…which though adverse to democratic ideals, was conjured up to tide over any emergent situation. It has been used over the decades satisfying the purpose for which it was meant and also misused at times, for it is not possible in a democratic order to insulate completely the domain of law from that of politics.” It will be interesting to see which category the Food Bill will fall under.

Noting that a comprehensive Food Security Bill was required for the country where nearly 230 million live in starvation, the Campaign has described the amended version of the National Food Security Bill as "inadequate and making a mockery of food security". Harsh Mander, a member of the Campaign and also a Special Commissioner to the Supreme Court, has reportedly said that "The Bill provides extremely limited food entitlements, is piecemeal and is nowhere close to providing food security. It makes no provisions for production of food or for support of small and marginal farmers who are food producers."  The Bill is said to be excessively flawed as it fails to give any real answers about food security. Activists point out that the major drawbacks which plague the Bill include absence of a definite time-frame for implementing the scheme; lack of a strong grievance redress mechanism; and entry of private contractors in the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS).

A massive movement in Delhi is planned for seeking proper amendments to the bill.


Image from here.
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