Ten mistakes NAC made on food bill

It provides old solutions, retains old problems


Prasanna Mohanty | October 25, 2010

Jean Dreze, development economist and a member of the National Advisory Council (NAC) which finalized its recommendations on the proposed food security law, has aptly summed up the final outcome in his dissent note: “An opportunity has been missed to initiate a radical departure in this field. The NAC proposals are a great victory for the government – they allow it to appear to be doing something radical for food security, but it is actually “more of the same”.

A look at the NAC’s formulations will make it abundantly clear how the NAC’s formulations have, instead of solving anything, defeats the very purpose of a food security law and introduces more complexities and confusion that would only weaken the existing subsidized food regime. Here is a list of 10 mistakes it has made:

1. A right to food has to be a universal. The NAC proposes an entitlement to only 75 percent of population – 90 percent in rural and 50 percent in urban areas.

2. This is further divided into “priority” and “general” category, instead of the existing BPL and APL categories. It is a mere name-change and if at all, it adds to confusion.

3. The “priority” category is meant for 28 percent urban and 46 percent of rural population. This is a marginal improvement from the Tendulkar’s formulation for BPL (37 percent) which would have been implemented in any case since the government has already accepted it. As per Tendularkar’s BPL families constitute 26 percent urban and 42 percent rural population.

4. NAC introduces a new category and hence, the complexity. It “excludes” 50 percent in urban and 10 percent in rural areas (Point 1) from subsidized food regime.

In existing system, there are only two categories exist – BPL and APL. Nobody is excluded per se. The bureaucrats will now have a field day, magnifying the problems of exclusion and inclusion.

5. NAC proposes 35 kg of food (at Rs 3 for rice, Rs 2 for wheat and Rs 1 for millet), which is an extension of the Antyodyay scheme to the “priority” (or BPL) families.

6. In the name of nutritional needs, it has only added millet to the list, instead of adding oil, pulses and other coarse grain to the food basket.

7. Pension to the aged, which is in force as per the interim orders of the supreme court monitoring the food programmes in the country (PUCL vs the Union of India and others case), has been left out. So, this is dilution of the existing support system.

8. PDS has derailed our subsidized food regime. The NAC merely promises to look into reforming it in future. With the existing PDS, we can only expect more loot of food grain. It defeats the very purpose of legislating a new law.

9. NAC has introduced the problem of identification. Who is a “priority” family? Who is a “general” family? NAC does not define, but leaves it to the government. This recommendation is useless and adds needless complexity. It gives reason for the government to junk it and continue with BPL and APL categorisation.

10. A host of other existing food programmes, like ICDS, mid-day meal, anganwadi (community kitchen) etc will continue. So, why need a new law?

Dreze is right. The NAC’s formulations amount to not only “more of the same”  solutions, but also to “more of the same” problems.
So, why do we need a food security law?




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