Amartya Sen bats for universal food coverage

Questions current growth vision when 40 percent children are malnourished

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Prasanna Mohanty | February 16, 2013


Nobel laureate Amartya Sen
Nobel laureate Amartya Sen

Batting for universal coverage of food entitlement, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen called for strengthening the draft food security bill, particularly the provisions relating to children’s entitlement. He said the supreme court orders on mid-day meals and integrated child development services (ICDS) had made important contribution to the health and nutrition of children. The bill, he felt, should not dilute these entitlements in any way.

He was speaking at a seminar on ‘hunger and nutrition: time to act’ organised at the Delhi IIT on Friday.

Sen said meeting the needs of malnourishments in children was not only important from the point of social justice but also to generate long-term growth and development. He drew attention to the fact “with one-third illiteracy, one-half without toilets, one-third with no electricity, 40 percent of children being under-nourished” India needed to review if any increase in growth rate was sustainable at all.

In fact, he recalled how at the time of independence the principles of free and universal provision of essential health, education and nutrition were part of the country’s vision and how we need to revive that now.

He counted three benefits of universal coverage of health, education and nutrition. First, it makes these facilities a matter of citizens’ right, and avoids any exclusion. Second, it ensures that powerful and influential people have a stake in them. Third, universal coverage helps to avoid corruption.

Saying that the tabling of food security bill in parliament was an achievement in itself Sen said it must be pushed sensibly, keeping in mind where cash transfers would work and where not. It was in reference to some states demanding cash transfer instead of food supply to the poor and malnourished population.

In the meanwhile, the food security bill has been sent back to the drawing board after several state governments opposed to some of the key elements of the bill. These objections related to uniform criteria of selecting beneficiaries, putting an arbitrary limit on the number of beneficiaries in rural (75 percent) and urban (50 percent) and the financial burden the extended coverage would put on some of the badly performing and poor states.

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