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

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Case for a Food Security Programme

The Chhapra tragedy must ask us how we can improve public services, not scrap them altogether.

In the aftermath of the ghastly tragedy in Chhapra, Bihar, where 22 children lost their lives after they consumed a government-provided school meal containing organophosphate pesticides, we must demand of the State a far greater commitment to administering large-scale welfare programmes that are meant to improve, not destroy the life of citizens. What we, however, cannot do is cynically use such tragedies to question the very need for such services. But this is precisely what has already begun to happen. Under the National Food Security Ordinance (NFSO) issued earlier this month, the national mid-day meal scheme (MDMS) will become part of the larger national food security programme and self-serving critics have already started using Chhapra as a weapon with which to beat back this new initiative.

Six decades since the commencement of planned growth and after a quarter of a century of being one of the fastest growing economies in the world, India still bears the shame of seeing close to half its children suffering from under-nutrition. If “growth” by itself has had such a limited impact on malnourishment then it surely is time for a national emergency programme to frontally attack such a fundamental deprivation. Now, food intake is not the only determinant of nutrition but inadequate food certainly does have an impact on nutritional status; and that is why it is unquestionable that we need a massive programme that ensures and operationalises the citizen’s very basic right to food. The legislation ensuring this right has been four years in the making and over time it has been watered down bit by bit so that what the NFSO provides for is not a universal right to food but a very modest movement in that direction which may yet bring down calorie deficiency and the horrendously high levels of under-nutrition.

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