Right to Food: NAC Suggests and the General Arguments Against Universal PDS

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Right to Food

  • APL could be roped in by reducing the BPL provisions to 30 kg, says Rangarajan.

  • AADHAAR can be used to for better provision. Some amount (5.5 kg) could be entitled to each individual.

NAC Suggests

  • Implement in a phased manner. Initially, extend universal food entitlements to one-fourth of either the poorest districts or the poorest blocks in the country. In the remaining areas, status quo will continue with the current application of the PDS.

  • Universalization of food security would currently not be possible given the current state of agricultural productivity and the level of grain procurement.

P Sainath: The General Arguments Against Universal PDS

  • There is no money. <the government however gave out Rs 500000 crore of tax exemptions to the wealthy in the budget 2010>

  • There are not enough grains for a universal system

  • The average daily net per capita availability of food grain between 2005 and 2008 is a dismal 436 grams per Indian. That’s less than it was half a century ago. Pulses availability was 70 grams in 1955-58 whereas in 2005-08 it was around 35 grams.

NAC Recommendations on Food Security Bill

NAC, in October 2010, made the following recommendations for the food security bill:

  • The law should provide a legal entitlement subsidised food grains for at least 75 per cent of the population, which translates into 90 per cent of the country’s rural population and 50 per cent of the urban population.

  • This 75 per cent of the population is, in turn, divided into “priority households” — who should have a monthly entitlement of 35 kg at a subsidised price of Re. 1 a kg for millets, Rs. 2 a kg for wheat and Rs. 3 a kg for rice — and “general households” who should have a monthly entitlement of 20 kg “at a price not exceeding 50 per cent of the current Minimum Support Price” for the three grains.

  • The NAC proposes that 46 per cent of the rural population and 28 per cent of the urban population would be classified as priority households. And that 44 per cent of the rural and 22 per cent of the urban population would be classified as general households. The criteria for categorising households as ‘priority’ or ‘general’ should be specified by the government of India.

These proposals are new in that they offer a legal entitlement to around 75 percent of the population.

Rangarajan Committee on the Food Security Bill

  • This committee was created to examine the NAC recommendations relating to the RTF

  • It favours NAC’s recommendation of legal entitlement of food grains to the poor but has rejected the recommendation that APL households be partially covered, saying it is not feasible at the current levels of grain production and procurement.

Critique of NAC Recommendations

  • The framework hinges on the unscientific division between the general, priority and excluded households

  • Identification criteria is left to the central government with some discretion for the state governments. Hence no one is guaranteed inclusion except for few ultra-marginalised groups. This undermines the basic purpose of the Act

  • The transition from the current APL-BPL framework to the new framework is likely to be disruptive. There are at least three sources of disruption:

    • The creation of an ‘excluded’ category

    • Transition to the new BPL list

    • Switch from household to per capita entitlements

  • The NAC framework fails to delink PDS entitlements from official poverty estimates.