ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Food Security Bill: Simpler the Better

The draft Food Bill is in a mess; a simple solution is available to make it an effective legislation.

The union cabinet’s inability to clear the National Food Security Bill (NFSB) on 13 December is both a concern and an opportunity. It is a concern because every passing day is a chance lost to bring hunger to an end. It is an opportunity because the Bill is in dire need of a quick fix.

The main problem is the Bill’s framework for the public distribution system (PDS), which rests on a complicated division of the population into three groups: Priority, General and Excluded households. Each group is to have different PDS entitlements: major benefits, token entitlements, and nothing, respectively. There is no clarity, however, as to how these groups are to be identified. The National Advisory Council (NAC) was unable to resolve this problem. It merely recommended that the coverage of Priority groups should be no less than 46% in rural areas and that of Excluded households no more than 10% (the corresponding ratios in urban areas are 28% and 50%). Identification criteria – indeed the entire identification process – were left to the government. The Rangarajan Committee, in its evaluation of the NAC proposal, took the view that the foodgrain requirements were too high. Therefore, the committee recommended legal entitlements for Priority households only, and ad hoc provisions for General households. It did not, however, take issue with the proposed division of the population into three groups, or with the proposed coverage of different groups.

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