Gujarat deserves SC rap on food security

The Supreme Court’s sharp criticism of the Gujarat government over the state’s failure to implement the National Food Security Act is well-deserved. Gujarat is among the states which are yet to implement the Act. The court has highlighted the legal issue involved in the non-compliance of the states in the matter. The Food Security Act was passed by parliament in 2013. Every state and union territory is duty-bound to implement the provisions of the Act, even if they have reservations about the Act or any part of it. The court said the failure or refusal of Gujarat to implement the Act may be compared to a failure or refusal of a state to implement the IPC or the CRPC. Though there is some rhetoric in the court’s description of Gujarat’s lapse, the essential point made by it is sound. It is that no state can opt out of implementation of a national legislation.

The failure of the government is not just legal. The lapse in substantive terms is equally, and perhaps more, serious. The Food Security Act makes the right to food a legal entitlement and promises to provide adequate quantities of it at affordable prices to the people, especially the poor. The law specifically provides for supply of five kg of subsidised food grains per person per month at Rs 3 a kg to two-thirds of the country’s population. With poverty and malnutrition being harsh realities of life for a very large number of people, the case for the Act is strong and self-explanatory. As for Gujarat, the case is especially strong, because it ranks low in human development, and malnutrition is high among women and children. The need to effectively implement the Act is particularly important because the drought in the last two years has hit the poor people badly and made them more vulnerable.

The Food Security Act was the UPA government’s scheme. There were many who criticised it for the high economic cost it carries and for ideological reasons. The Act was also opposed on political grounds. Eleven states, including Gujarat, are yet to implement it. Some states which have implemented it have done so only partially. The Central government has now announced that it would be implemented all over the country by April this year. It is true that the NDA government was not very enthusiastic about it, as it was with some other schemes of the UPA government. It must ensure that no state again misses the deadline for implementation. The genuine problems of some states, like those related to storage of food grains, should be addressed earliest.
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