By Supriya Kumar
India’s National Advisory Council has recently completed a draft bill of the National Food Security Act, which aims to improve food access for the country’s poorest communities. Although India has a rapidly growing economy, it is still home to 25 percent of the world’s hungry, and this act is an important way of improving food security in the country.
With the new Indian Food Security Act, policy makers are not only hoping to alleviate hunger, but also to empower women. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)
In addition to its goal to securing food for the country’s poor, this bill also hopes to empower women by ensuring that women are the ones receiving and managing the food distribution or cash transfers that the program will provide. According to the bill, the eldest woman of the household, as long as she is at least 18 years old, will replace the patriarch as the “head” of the family, which completely alters the core of the Indian family structure.
Under this draft, a seven-member National Food Commission will be created and headed by a current or former Supreme Court judge, in addition to State Commissions presided by a High Court judge. Their purpose is to deal with any complaints about food distribution, and they have the authority to issue fines on any public servant that they find guilty of misdistribution.
The bill also rules out the role of any private sector actors, such as business enterprises, placing the government and government supported programs, such as the public distribution system (PDS) – a government program that distributes essential commodities, including rice, wheat, and gas, to the poor – at the forefront. “No private contractors shall be used for the delivery of any entitlements or procurement, storage and distribution for food grains,” specifies Section 105 of the proposed Act. The bill also outlines changes to the public distribution system (PDS), and has delegated the distribution to be handled by “Fair Price Shops.” These shops will be managed and operated by women and women’s groups, further empowering women in rural Indian communities.
The NAC has ambitious goals: according to the draft, 90 percent of all rural households and 50 percent of all urban households will legally be entitled to receive subsidized grains. But this has been criticized by the Prime Minister’s economic advisory council. The council fears that the financial burden and the lack of available food grains will put a strain on fulfilling this commitment.
Additional provisions stated in the draft place emphasis on nutritional support for pregnant women and lactating mothers, as well as children up to the age of 14, irrespective of their economic status. After the bill is reviewed by the Food Ministry, the government will most likely introduce it when the parliament reconvenes in the monsoon session, which is slated to start on August 1st.
Do you think that such a food security act will be successful in alleviating hunger in India? Let us know in the comments section!
Supriya Kumar is a research fellow with the Nourishing the Planet project.