Amartya Sen welcomes government's Right to Food Act

"In my new book, 'The Idea of Justice', I have spoken about injustice. Inequitable distribution of food and malnourishment is one of the injustices. I think it is to the credit of the government that it is planning to bring about the Right to Food Act. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi are in the right territory. It is a step in the right direction,” Sen said addressing a discussion on Right To Food at a packed Press Club here.

Sen was in the capital to promote his new book, “The Idea of Justice”.  

"Recently, I spent some time at Nalanda, Gaya, Rajgir and Patna in Bihar and found that there was a change in the administration even in the backward areas. A wider cross-section of people had access to food and it showed how change people's initiative and a good leadership can bring about,” he said.

The Right To Food Act is an integral component of the United Progressive Alliance's proposed National Food Security Bill mentioned in the budget speech under which the every poor family would get 25 kg of food grain per month at Rs.3 per kg.
It was also part of the Congress's election manifesto.   

Outlining the food scenario in the country, Sen said the magnitude of malnourishment, especially in woman, mothers, children and babies at birth, in India was tremendous.

"No other country comes close to India. Most of the African nations have lower levels of child malnourishment. It is a situation of manifest injustice and we have the means to remove it but there is a certain level of smugness about India's achievements. The most difficult and nasty thing about malnourishment is that incapacitates the mind and debilitates the body,” Sen said.

The economist said one must recognise that “poverty, lack of food, illnesses and state of education in India were closely linked - and were of the same magnitude”.

"Though the public distribution system has achieved something quite considerable, it still merited a depth of probe on effective were the distribution networks. There is a general perception that if the supply of food has been ensured, then the poor do not need the employment guarantee scheme. But the way of getting to all is through diverse necessities (addressing all their needs),” Sen said.

The economist's West Bengal-based organisation, Pratichi Trust, working in food security and education sectors across the country, is currently studying  facilities under the  Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and how it applies to children under below six years of age in six districts of West Bengal.

"We have studied the ICDS scheme in some areas of West Bengal and a few tribal districts of Jharkhand and found a number of defects. As an economist, I would be very happy if these flaws could be removed. There is need for a multiplicity of delivery system and NGOs have a very important role to play in universalising the ICDS system so that it reached everyone,” Sen said.

Commenting on the mid-day meal scheme, Sen said: “What Europe introduced in the 19th century, India was getting it 200 years later.

“Lot of relatively richer kids in India complain that they don't want to eat with the poor kids in schools for they can get food in their tiffin carriers. The media in this country is obsessed with the rich kids. Consequently, the quality of food gets more importance than the fact that the scheme is getting to some people. We have to defend the mid-day meal schemes so that the poorest schools do not lose the grants and benefits they have,” Sen, who teaches at Harvard University in US, said.

“It was easier to teach children in a full stomach than hungry children who could not concentrate and had short attention spans.”
                  
The discussion was hosted by an umbrella of non-profit groups campaigning for the right to food.

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