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Is Food Security Bill Protecting The Entitlement?

By S. Mohammed Irshad

16 July, 2013

Finally government of India and congress party managed to pass an ordinance on food security, hopefully the next parliament session would pass the bill. Infact, the other political parties are forced to accept the ordinance. Since, the next parliament election is scheduled, no political establishment can say no to the bill. This is not a comprehensive bill to ensure the food entitlements to the poor mass; even then there is less opposition against the bill. The parliamentary left parties have registered their concern on the issue of Targeted Public Distribution System (PDS), through which the bill is going to execute. The shifting of public distribution system from universal to target is market policy of development governance, and the parties in power in the country have accepted this. The problem is not just a shifting from universal to targeted PDS, the problem is the manner in which the Act is being presented to the public. It is not a bill to protect the right of the people; rather it is the justification of privatisation of RIGHT TO FOOD.

The Act refers that, “ every person belong to priority households,identified under sub-section (1) of section 15, shall be entitled to receive five kilograms of food grains per person per month at subsidised prices specified in scheduled I from the state government under the Targeted Public Distribution system”. There is nothing new or special in this act, however, it is a well planned project to legitimize the minimum food support system as a development intervention. The Food security is categorically made it clear that who are the beneficiaries, the act defined that, “the households covered under Antyodaya Anna Yojana shall, to such extent as may be specified by the central government for each state in the said scheme, be entitled to thirty-five kilograms of foodgrains per household per month at the prices specified in Schedule I”. The future of this scheme is depended on direct cash transfer, food coupons, and other schemes. Direct cash transfer is not going to be successful project in India , so, the government has to continue with the PDS to execute the food security programme.

Is PDS getting support from the government? This crisis has to be assessed on the basis of procurement reforms in India . In 2003, Government of India, has appointed McKinsey consultancy to look into the various aspects of public procurement, the consultancy recommended mass privatisation of supply chain management and reduction of public procurements. This has led mass privatisation of warehouses in India . The targeted PDS was the result of procurement reforms, and now it becomes part of a poverty eradication programme. Poverty eradication through, targeted PDS and other minimum support system is indeed a myth rather than a reality. The food security bill is in fact a testimonial of targeted intervention and minimum support system.

The food security bill's reference on women empowerment needed to be critically looked at. The bill states that, “ women empowerment where a household at any time does not have a women or a women of eighteen years of age or above, but has a female member below the age of eighteen years,then, the eldest male member of the household shall be the head of the household for the purpose of issue of ration cards and the female member, on attaining the age of eighteen years, shall become the head of the household for such ration cards in place of such male member”. Women empowerment defined by the bill has again put limitation on the social mobility of women, how holding ration cards for minimum food become a symbol of empowerment? What type of empowerment it is aiming at? The structural inequality and backwardness are ignored in this process. It also justifies the process of assessing entitlements based on the minimum and secluded needs.

Should it sustainable?

The sustainability of food security depended on, a) continuous food production, and, b) existence of the poor!. The act has made passing remarks on the agricultural production to ensure the implementation of the food security bill. The act says that in order to ensure food security, the following areas have to be revisited, (1) Revitalisation of Agriculture; (a) agrarian reforms through measures for securing interests of small and marginal farmers; (b) increase in investments in agriculture, including research and development, extension services, micro and minor irrigation and power to increase productivity and production;(c) prohibiting unwarranted diversion of land and water from food production. The Act also emphasises the importance of other welfare measures, such as drinking water, health care and nutritional support system. All these are significantly connected with the social structure of the country. It completely problematic to discuss these basis development issues with reference to this minimum support project. One of major crisis is the limited reach of PDS. Only 11 percent is the share of PDS in total per capita consumptiongoo in the rural India , in the urban area it is 7.7 percent. This unregulated market would undermine the food security bill. First, the market induced inflation, it would undermine the direct cash transfer for food security, since the direct cash transfer has no mechanism to chase the inflation. Second, targeted PDS, targeted PDS has to be revised, so, the number of people who are eligible to be included in the list has to be come down in the due course. The changing criteria for poverty line explain this in detail. The number of poor is not coming down in India , yet, the poverty eradication method pushes many BPL to APL. Reduction in BPL is the only justification for a reduction in public spending and subsidy.

The central government cannot continue with food security project for a long time, infact the project is not meant for long term. The cost of the scheme is needed to critically look at; the government the food minister said that the project cost Rs 8,000 Crore. It is also an exaggerated figure, because of changing economic preference. It is development expenditure.

There is a demand for the right to food, however, but it should not lead to limit the other basic and fundamental rights. The government wrongly defines the concept of rights with the help of a food security bill. The manner in which the bill defines the right to food is also problematic, for instance the bill defined that, “ the priority households (46% in rural areas and 28% in urban areas) to have a monthly entitlement of 35 Kgs (equivalent to 7 Kgs per person) at a subsidized price of Rs. 1 per Kg for millets, Rs. 2 per Kg for wheat and Rs. 3 per Kg for rice. The general households (39% rural and 12% urban in phase 1 and 44% rural and 22% urban in final phase) to have a monthly entitlement of 20Kgs (equivalent to 4 Kgs per person) at a price not exceeding 50% of the current Minimum Support Price for millets, wheat and rice” . The figures show that, a significant number of people are needed entitlements, however, what the government proposed is a limited programme, and it will continue for a long time.

It will not offer any large scale social mobility, this is the legitimization of the minimum support scheme as development intervention

S. Mohammed Irshad PhD
Assistant Professor
Jamsetji Tata Centre for Disaster Management
Tata Institute of Social Sciences
E-Mail:  mohammedirshad31@gmail.com






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