Criticisms of the Food Security Bill: Empty vessels with a lot of noise

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Criticisms of the Food Security Bill: Empty vessels with a lot of noise

The introduction of the ‘Food Security Bill’ in the Parliament has initiated a debate about its implications, credibility and effectiveness. Some voices have even called it redundant and irrelevant in a developing economy. But is this discussion really worth? Are we trying to read too much in between the lines?

To answer these questions let us have a quick overview of the ‘Food Security Bill.’ Here are the highlights of the bill:

Priority households are entitled to 5 kgs of foodgrains per person per month, and Antyodaya households to 35 kgs per household per month. The combined coverage of Priority and Antyodaya households (called “eligible households”) shall extend “up to 75% of the rural population and up to 50% of the urban population”.

The PDS issue prices are given in Schedule I: Rs 3/2/1 for rice/wheat/millets (actually called “coarse grains” in the Bill). These may be revised after three years.

Children’s Entitlements

For children in the age group of 6 months to 6 years, the Bill guarantees an age-appropriate meal, free of charge, through the local anganwadi. For children aged 6-14 years, one free mid-day meal shall be provided every day (except on school holidays) in all schools run by local bodies, government and government aided schools, up to Class VIII. For children below six months, “exclusive breastfeeding shall be promoted”.

Children who suffer from malnutrition will be identified through the local anganwadi and meals will be provided to them free of charge “through the local anganwadi”.

Entitlements of Pregnant and Lactating Women

Every pregnant and lactating mother is entitled to a free meal at the local anganwadi (during pregnancy and six months after child birth) as well as maternity benefits of Rs 6,000, in instalments.

The Criticisms:

1.       Government should focus more on reforms and not on doles

The most popular argument against the Food Security bill is that the Government is trying to buy votes for the 2014 elections by this bill. Is it? In my opinion many of the UPA government’s policies were for the welfare of the people. Votes in any subsequent elections because of the policies will just be a domino effect. It is something like a cricket player playing for team’s victory; personal records are bound to follow.

At the same time the Government has clearly mentioned that the bill has room for improvement and its flaws can be identified and rectified after its enforcement.

Another amazing (and rather amusing) part of this argument is asking the government to focus on reforms.  Not very long ago, the same voices were criticizing the government for FDI (and MNREGA,and  liberalization,and globalization etc well the list is long). This is a paradigm shift and such voices aim at maligning the government and not positively criticizing it.

2.       Criticism by the Gujarat Government

The Gujarat government has raised strong objection on the bill and has termed it against the federal structure. It further criticizes the bill for its loose definition of ‘migrants’ in various states and wants the bill to clearly identify ‘migrants’ and ‘infiltrators’.

The first part of the argument is understandable from a ‘Gujarat government point of view’ as the bill  does not give the aforesaid government a chance to take credit for a historical decision, when the Gujarat CM wants to take credit for every single developmental step in Gujarat.

The second part of the argument is a bit shocking. Can Indians be infiltrators in their own country? Well, maybe in Gujarat they are. (Remember in the India Today Conclave Shri Modiji blamed the ‘migrants’ for Gujarat lagging behind some states on various grounds)

Also, on the same grounds if Gujarat is opposing Food Security, why didnt it oppose Mahatma Gandhi NREGA or Right to Education.

 3.       The bill is against work ethics

Many (including some eminent columnists and economists) have argued that the Food Security Bill will degrade the work culture as it targets two-third of the population, which can influence the GDP.

The influence on GDP is certain but in a positive way. The bill will provide a level of financial security to the beneficiaries, which in return will instigate them to focus on their betterment.  Does the subsidy on LPG kill the work ethics of the middle class? So, why segregate the less fortunate on a similar issue?

The bill extends a helping hand for pregnant and lactating mothers. This move will instil a feeling of self-sufficiency in women and reduce the burden of families in which the father is the sole breadwinner. This is a welcome investment on human resource.

It is true that the bill has to face the test of time and the challenges for the Public Distribution System are immense. But it certainly gives us hope that in the near future India will not be recognized as a country ‘where the major part of the population does not enjoy the privilege of a square a meal a day.’

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