The food security legislation is one of the watershed legislation in the parliamentary democracy of India as it made availability/access to food a “Right” of the people. There are many compelling factors - economic, social, political – as well as ethical reasons for having such a legal guarantee of protection from hunger.
The origin of this concept can be traced to Fundamental Right of Life with dignity as enshrined in Article 21 of Indian constitution. The President of India addressing the Indian Parliament on 4 June 2009 affirmed that the Government of India proposes to enact a new law - the National Food Security Act (NFSA) - that will provide a statutory basis for a framework which assures food security for all.
There has been a plethora of definition of food security that has been extended from time to time by different international agencies. The anchoring definition, however, was arrived in the Rome Declaration during the World Food Summit held in 1996 at Rome. It states:
“Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”
The concept of food and nutrition security/insecurity has been conceptualized in diverse and overarching manner. However, the following three aspects (the 3 A’s) underlie most conceptualizations of food security.
- Availability – it refers to the physical availability of foodstocks in desired quantities. This depends on the domestic production, changes in stocks, and imports along with the distribution of food across territories.
- Access – this is determined by the bundle of entitlements. This aspect of the definition captures Amartya Sen’s thinking on the issue. This refers people’s initial endowments, i.e. what they can acquire (especially in terms of physical and economic access to food) and the opportunities open to them to achieve entitlement sets. This can be achieved either through their own endeavors or through intervention of the State or both.
- Absorption – it is defined as the ability to biologically utilise the food consumed. This is related to several factors such as nutritional knowledge, safe drinking water, and availability of stable and sanitary physical and environmental conditions. All this allows effective biological absorption of food in a human body.
Similar definition has been given by the World Bank also which identifies food availability, food access and food use as the three pillars of food security.
The World Food Summit goal is to reduce the number of undernourished people by half, between 1990–92 and 2015. Similar target has been set by the Millennium Development Goal 1 (target 1C) to halve the proportion of people who are suffering from hunger by 2015 as compared to 1990.
Food Security Legislation in India
The Global Hunger Index (GHI) brought out by IFPRI in 2010 has shown improvement over the 1990 GHI as it fell by almost one-quarter. But still, the index for hunger in the world remains at a level characterized as “serious”. India ranks 67 out of 122 countries in GHI in the world. Earlier, it had a rank of 66 in the list of 88 countries (GHI, 2008). The total number of undernourished people in the world was estimated to have surpassed 1 billion (1023 million in 2009) and expected to decline by to 925 million in 2010. Developing countries account for 98 percent of the world’s undernourished people. Out of these, two-thirds live in just seven countries (Bangladesh, China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia and Pakistan) and over 40 percent live in China and India alone. This is an alarming situation. Hunger deaths amidst piles of rotting food grains in FCI’s storage are a matter of concern. However, to attain the goal of food security multi-pronged strategies needs to be adopted. Food security is, thus, not only about having a bumper crop production but also to make it available and affordable to the masses for fulfilling their nutritional requirement and living a dignified and healthy life.
Keeping this in mind, the Finance Minister in budget speech 2009-10 initiated the work on National Food Security Act. It sought to ensure that every family living below the poverty line in rural or urban areas will be entitled by law to 25 kilos of rice or wheat per month at Rs.3 a kilo. Carrying forward the agenda the FM in his Budget speech 2011-12, informed that the government, after detailed consultations with all stakeholders including State Governments, is close to finalisation of National Food Security Bill (NFSB). However, the recommendations from National Advisory Council (NAC) and Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council (PMEAC) differed on the coverage of beneficiaries. The NAC wants legal entitlement extended to 90% (46% would come in Priority Category) of rural households and 50% (28% would come in Priority Category) of urban households (available at: http://nac.nic.in/foodsecurity/explanatory_note.pdf). On the other hand, the Rangarajan Committee had raised concerns over the availability of grain for such a large cover.
Government promulgated the National Food Security Act, 2013 on 10.9.2013. As per the NFSA, food security means the supply of the entitled quantity of foodgrains and meal specified under Chapter II of the Act. Every person belonging to priority households, identified under sub-section (1) of section 10 of the Act, are entitled to receive five kilograms of foodgrains per person per month at subsidised prices specified in Schedule I from the State Government under the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS).
As per the Act, 75% of the rural and 50% of the urban population, at the all India level, will be entitled to receive subsidised foodgrains under Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS). It further provides that corresponding to the above, the State-wise coverage will be determined by the Central Government. As regards identification, the Act provides that within the coverage under TPDS determined for each State, the identification of households is to be done by the State Governments.
Thus the National Food Security Act, amongst other things, provides for legal entitlement to two-thirds of the population to receive foodgrains at highly subsidized prices of Rs. 1/2/3 per kg for coarse grains/wheat/rice respectively. Coverage of beneficiaries under pre-NFSA TPDS was under three different categories of beneficiaries – Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY), Below Poverty Line (BPL) and Above Poverty Line (APL). Central Issue Prices (CIPs) for these categories of households were different. However, the States/UTs were given flexibility to pass on the expenditure incurred by them on intra-State movement of foodgrains and dealers margin of fair price shops to beneficiaries (except AAY beneficiaries). Accordingly, many States/UTs were distributing foodgrains to beneficiaries under Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) at prices higher than the CIPs. NFSA provides that beneficiaries across the country will receive foodgrains under NFSA at uniform subsidized price. States/UTs, therefore, do not have the flexibility to pass on the expenditure incurred by them on intra-State movement of foodgrains and fair price shop dealers margin to beneficiaries.
Implementation of NFSA has so far started only in 11 States/UTs. The period for identification of beneficiaries and implementation of the Act had to be extended thrice, upto 30.09.2015 as its implementation is yet to start in the remaining 25 States/UTs. In March 2015, Union Government agreed to bear the additional burden in the cost of transportation of foodgrains and margins to fair price shops to ensure that the beneficiaries will continue to get foodgrain at subsidized prices.
The Centrally Sponsored Scheme on Food Security
In addition to the above Act, the National Development Council (NDC) in its meeting on May, 2007 had adopted a resolution to launch Food Security Mission comprising rice, wheat and pulses to increase the production of rice by 10 million tons, wheat by 8 million tons and pulses by 2 million tons by the end of the Eleventh Plan (2011-12). Accordingly, a Centrally Sponsored Scheme, 'National Food Security Mission', has been launched from 2007-08 to operationalize the above mentioned resolution.
The performance of National Food Security Mission (NFSM) during 11th Five Year Plan has been assessed through an independent agency. The Mission has helped in widening the food basket of the country with sizeable contributions coming from the NFSM districts. The focused and target oriented implementation of mission initiatives has resulted in bumper production of rice, wheat and pulses. As informed to the Parliament on 18 December 2014, The production of wheat has increased from 75.81 million tonnes in pre-NFSM year of 2006-07 to 94.88 million tonnes during 2011-12 i.e. an increase of 19.07 million tonnes against the envisaged target of 8 million tonnes at the end of XI Plan. Similarly, the total production of rice has increased from 93.36 million tonnes in pre NFSM year of 2006-07 to 105.30 million tonnes in 2011-12 with an increase of 11.94 million tonnes against the target of 10 million tonnes. The total production of pulses has also increased from 14.20 million tonnes during 2006-07 to 17.09 million tonnes during 2011-12 with an increase of 2.89 million tonnes against the envisaged target of 2 million tonnes. Thus, 33.90 million tonnes of additional production of total foodgrains against the target of 20 million tonnes. The Mission has been continued during 12th Five Year Plan with inclusion of coarse cereals crops and commercial crops (sugarcane, jute, cotton). The Mission has target of additional production of 25 million tonnes of foodgrains comprising 10 million tonnes of rice, 8 million tonnes of wheat, 4 million tonnes of pulses and 3 million tonnes of coarse cereals by the end of 12th Five Year Plan.