NAC members protest against Food Security Bill

Aruna Roy, NAC member, and Jean Dreze, a former member, joined other civil society activists on a demonstration at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, and not only criticised the “flawed” and “restricted” approach of the draft National Food Security Bill, but also pointed out the inadequacy of the ongoing socio economic and caste census that the government wants the proposed legislation to rely upon to choose its beneficiaries.

They demanded that the proposed National Food Security Act must expand the ambit of the existing provisions for providing subsidised foodgrains, instead of curtailing them.

The proposed Act must refrain from continuing with the Targeted Public Distribution System and, instead, universalise it. Both Roy and Dreze were members of the NAC Working Group on Food Security, which prepared a draft National Food Security Bill and forwarded it to the government earlier this year.

The government, however, diluted some of the NAC recommendations and came out with another draft, which is set to be placed before the Union Cabinet for approval in the second week of December.

The Right To Food Campaign (RTFC) – a network of civil society organisations – on Tuesday wrote to all MPs, alleging that the draft prepared by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution trimmed down “the very modest entitlements proposed by the NAC”.

The government’s draft of the Bill seeks to cover up to 75 per cent of rural population and 50 per cent of urban households with a proposed monthly entitlement of 7 kg foodgrain per person, at Rs 3 per kg for rice, Rs 2 per kg for wheat and Re 1 per kg for coarse grains. “The main goal of the government’s draft seems to be to minimise its obligations, restrict people’s entitlements and avoid any accountability,” said Dreze.
Roy said the draft Bill threatened to undermine the Public Distribution System by imposing an ill-advised straightjacket on the State governments.

The RTFC activists said the draft Bill perpetuated the failed model of “BPL targeting”. “It provides for subsidised food to priority and general households only, with the numbers of such households being decided through poverty estimates of the Planning Commission. It is giving legitimacy to the very unpopular APL-BPL selection process, which is more known for its exclusion and inclusion errors and its use in partisan politics rather than proper targeting,” they wrote to the MPs.

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