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

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Abandoning the Right to Food

The proposed legislation on the National Food Security Act has been steadily watered down since it was fi rst mooted in 2009. The Parliamentary Standing Committee that examined the 2011 Bill has disappointingly continued with "targeting". If the government passes the bill incorporating the committee's suggestions, a historic opportunity to combat hunger and malnutrition would be lost.

About four years have passed since the United Progressive Alliance government promised to enact a law which would contain guarantees for food security for every child, woman and man in India. It first entrusted the task of drafting the proposed bill to an empowered group of ministers, who resorted to a very minimalist interpretation of the idea of national food security, and reduced the government’s resolve to end hunger to the mere distribution of 25 kg of foodgrains (wheat and rice) a month to the 37.2% of the country’s population considered below the poverty line (BPL) according to the Planning Commission estimates. Faced by severe opposition to this truncated and untenable understanding of food security, the government then passed on the task of drafting a National Food Security bill to the National Advisory Council (NAC).

The NAC draft of the bill, negotiated for over a year, was criticised by the left parties and the Right to Food campaign for failing to universalise the entitlement of subsidised food rations under the public distribution system (PDS). This draft contained many robust guarantees for ensuring nutrition of vulnerable groups such as children, women and people in conditions of starvation, homelessness, emergency or disaster. But these provisions were curtailed in a weakened bill introduced by the government in Parliament in December 2011. The following month, this bill (henceforth referred to as the government draft of the bill) was sent to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution for scrutiny.

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