ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Two Steps Forward, One Step Backward

The revised version of the National Food Security Bill is an advancement but it also disappoints.

There are uncanny parallels between the history of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) and the course – so far – of the National Food Security Bill. Both legislations were drafted by the National Advisory Council, tabled in Parliament in a much diluted form, and substantially repaired in response to various agitations and recommendations (including those of a Parliamentary Standing Committee) before being put to vote. The revised version of the National Food Security Bill was recently cleared by the union cabinet and is expected to be discussed in Parliament before the end of the budget session. Like NREGA, the revised food bill is a compromise document that falls short of the initial vision behind it and yet upholds some important entitlements.

These entitlements include an assured quota of subsidised foodgrains from the public distribution system (PDS), maternity benefits for all pregnant women, and nutritious meals for children through local anganwadis or primary schools. Starting with the PDS, every eligible household will be entitled to 5 kg of foodgrains per person per month at a symbolic price (Rs 3, 2 and 1 per kg for rice, wheat and millets, respectively). Eligible households are to cover 75% and 50% of the rural and urban populations, respectively. These are national coverage ratios, which are expected to be adjusted state-wise based on a fairness principle, so that the coverage is higher in the poorer states.

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