The basic concept of food security globally is to ensure that all people, at all times, should get access to the basic food for their active and healthy life and is characterized by availability, access, utilization and stability of food. Though the Indian Constitution does not have any explicit provision regarding right to food, the fundamental right to life enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution may be interpreted to include right to live with human dignity, which may include the right to food and other basic necessities.
- The National Food Security Act 2013 (also ‘Right to Food Act’) is an Act of the Parliament which aims to provide subsidized food grains to approximately two thirds of India’s 1.2 billion people.
- It was signed into law on 12 September 2013, retroactive to 5 July 2013.
- The National Food Security Act, 2013 (NFSA 2013) converts into legal entitlements for existing food security programmes of the Government of India.
- It includes the Midday Meal Scheme, Integrated Child Development Services scheme and the Public Distribution System.
- Further, the NFSA 2013 recognizes maternity entitlements. The Midday Meal Scheme and the Integrated Child Development Services Scheme are universal in nature whereas the PDS will reach about two-thirds of the population (75% in rural areas and 50% in urban areas).
- Under the provisions of the bill, beneficiaries of the Public Distribution System (or, PDS) are entitled to 5 kilograms (11 lb) per person per month of cereals at the following prices:
- Rice at ₹3 (4.2¢ US) per kg
- Wheat at ₹2 (2.8¢ US) per kg
- Coarse grains (millet) at ₹1 (1.4¢ US) per kg.
- Pregnant women, lactating mothers, and certain categories of children are eligible for daily free cereals.
Objectives of the National Food Security Act
The Act provides for food and nutritional security in the human life cycle approach, by ensuring access to an adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices for people to live a life with dignity and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
- Coverage and entitlement under Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) :
- Up to 79.56% of the rural population and 64.43% of the urban population will be covered under TPDS, with uniform entitlement of 5 kg per person per month.
- However, since Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) households constitute poorest of the poor, and are presently entitled to 35 kg per household per month, entitlement of existing AAY households will be protected at 35 kg per household per month.
- State-wise coverage : Corresponding to the all India coverage of 75% and 50% in the rural and urban areas, State-wise coverage will be determined by the Central Government. Planning Commission has determined the State-wise coverage by using the NSS Household Consumption Survey data for 2011-12.
- Subsidised prices under TPDS and their revision :
- Foodgrains under TPDS will be made available at subsidised prices of Rs. 3/2/1 per kg for rice, wheat and coarse grains for a period of three years from the date of commencement of the Act.
- Thereafter prices will be suitably linked to Minimum Support Price (MSP).
- In case, any State’s allocation under the Act is lower than their current allocation, it will be protected up to the level of average offtake under normal TPDS during last three years, at prices to be determined by the Central Government.
- Existing prices for APL households i.e. Rs. 6.10 per kg for wheat and Rs 8.30 per kg for rice has been determined as issue prices for the additional allocation to protect the average offtake during last three years.
- Identification of Households :
- Within the coverage under TPDS determined for each State, the work of identification of eligible households is to be done by States/UTs.
- Nutritional Support to women and children :
- Pregnant women and lactating mothers and children in the age group of 6 months to 14 years will be entitled to meals as per prescribed nutritional norms under Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and Mid-Day Meal (MDM) schemes.
- Higher nutritional norms have been prescribed for malnourished children up to 6 years of age.
- Maternity Benefit :
- Pregnant women and lactating mothers will also be entitled to receive maternity benefit of not less than Rs. 6,000.
- Women Empowerment :
- Eldest woman of the household of age 18 years or above to be the head of the household for the purpose of issuing of ration cards.
- Grievance Redressal Mechanism :
- Grievance redressal mechanism at the District and State levels. States will have the flexibility to use the existing machinery or set up separate mechanism.
- Cost of intra-State transportation & handling of foodgrains and FPS Dealers’ margin :
- Central Government will provide assistance to States in meeting the expenditure incurred by them on transportation of foodgrains within the State, its handling and FPS dealers’ margin as per norms to be devised for this purpose.
- Transparency and Accountability :
- Provisions have been made for disclosure of records relating to PDS, social audits and setting up of Vigilance Committees in order to ensure transparency and accountability.
- Food Security Allowance :
- Provision for food security allowance to entitled beneficiaries in case of non-supply of entitled foodgrains or meals.
- Penalty :
- Provision for penalty on public servant or authority, to be imposed by the State Food Commission, in case of failure to comply with the relief recommended by the District Grievance Redressal Officer.
The intent of the National Food Security Bill is spelled out in the Lok Sabha committee report, The National Food Security Bill, 2011, Twenty Seventh Report, which states, “Food security means availability of sufficient foodgrains to meet the domestic demand as well as access, at the individual level, to adequate quantities of food at affordable prices.” The report adds, “The proposed legislation marks a paradigm shift in addressing the problem of food security – from the current welfare approach to a right based approach. About two thirds (approx 67%) of the population will be entitled to receive subsidized foodgrains under Targeted Public Distribution System. In a country where almost 40% of children are undernourished the importance of the scheme increases significantly.”
Who are the beneficiaries of the National Food Security Act?
The Act covers two-thirds of the entire population under two categories of beneficiaries:
- Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) households
- Priority Households (PHH)
- AAY households encompass the households headed by widows or disabled persons or persons aged 60 years or more with no assured means of subsistence or societal support.
- It usually takes into account the households of those below the poverty line too.
- It also includes support for women and children.
- NFSA gives the right to receive food-grains at subsidized prices by people belonging to eligible households, i.e., the PHH. A major section of the ration cardholders in the priority sector comes under this category. This is an effort to alleviate poverty.
- The work of identification of eligible households within the coverage under TPDS determined for each state is to be done by the states and the UTs.
Significance of Food Security
The concerns regarding food security in India can be traced back to the experience of the Bengal Famine in 1943 during the British Colonial Rule. Food security is of utmost importance to a nation as it will also have a positive influence on the other aspects determining the growth of a nation:
- It is a boost the agricultural sector.
- It also aids the government to regulate food prices.
- A boost in the agricultural sector would result in more job opportunities, as agriculture is a labor-intensive sector. This would enhance economic growth and result in the reduction of poverty.
- Access to nutritious food would enhance the overall health of the public.
- Food security is also important for global security and stability of the nation.
Read comprehensively about Food Security in India in the linked article.
Significance of the National Food Security Act
The concept of food security at a global level indicates access to basic, nutritious food by all people, at all times. It is characterized by availability, access, utilization, and stability of food.
- There is no explicit provision in the Indian Constitution for the right to food.
- Until the enactment of the NFSA, the fundamental right to life under Article 21 was interpreted to include the right to live with human dignity, which may include the right to food and other basic necessities.
Obligations under NFSA
The NFSA states in detail the obligations of the Central government, the state government, and the local authorities.
1. Obligations of the Central Government:
- The Central Government shall allocate the required food grains from the central pool to the State Governments under the TPDS.
- The Government would have to allocate the resources keeping in mind the number of persons in the eligible households.
- The Central Government would also provide for the transportation of food grains as per the allocation to the State Governments.
- Assist the State Governments in meeting the expenditures incurred by the State Government towards intra-state movement, handling of the food grains, and the FPS margins.
- Create and maintain storage facilities at various levels.
2. Obligations of the State Governments:
- The State Government shall be responsible for the implementation and monitoring of the various schemes.
- Organize intra-state allocations to deliver the allocated food grains to the beneficiaries.
- Determine the eligible households and the beneficiaries and ensure that they can avail of the benefits of the schemes.
- Create and maintain scientific storage facilities at the district and block levels to store the allocated food grains.
- Establish institutionalized licensing arrangements for the FPS under the Public Distribution System (Control) Order, 2001.
3. Obligations of the local authorities:
- They shall be responsible for the effective implementation of the Act.
- They may be assigned additional responsibilities by the State Government for the implementation of the TPDS.
- The local authorities would be responsible for discharging the responsibilities allotted to them by the State Governments.
Challenges to Food Security
There are a plethora of challenges to battle food security, a few of them are:
- Climate Change: the increase in the global temperatures and the capricious rainfall makes farming difficult. A change in the temperatures not only impacts the crops but the other species which are reared for food such as fisheries, livestock, etc.
- Lack of Access: there is a lack of access to remote areas. The tribals and other communities living in remote areas do not get the opportunity to avail of the benefits of the schemes implemented for food security due to lack of access.
- Over-population: A substantial increase in the population when not accompanied by an increase in agricultural production results in a shortage of food.
- Non-food crops: crops grown for commercial purposes such as biofuels and dyes have reduced the area under cultivation for crops.
- Migration from Rural-Urban cities: This causes a problem as it leads to a lot of confusion as to which PDS shop to buy the subsidies from.
Ways to increase the effectiveness of NFSA
The Government should provide strategies for better food storage, and adopt an integrated policy framework to facilitate agriculture productivity.
- The usage of Information Technology throughout the process from acquisition of the food grains till distribution will aid in enhancing the effectiveness of the process.
- For example, in January 2021, DigiLocker facility has been advocated for adoption in the PDS. This is to help making e-ration cards accessible for the beneficiaries anytime from anywhere under One National One Ration Card Scheme.
- Information regarding the entire process from the quality of food grains to the storage facilities where the grains were stored should be available to the beneficiaries.
- A one ration card system (for more on this, check PIB dated Aug 9, 2019) would be effective in eliminating the confusion, especially for the migrants, as this would provide the beneficiaries the freedom to choose from the PDS shop of their choice.
- Expand the coverage of Integrated Management of PDS (IMPDS) to all the states.