It is being projected as the Big Mummy of All Welfare Schemes. I am talking of the draft Food Security Bill that the Ministry of Food and Consumer Affairs is trying to bring out. The bill guarantees 35 kg of foodgrains to every person belonging to the priority household and 15 kg to general households every month at a subsidised price. Dressed up as if is ambitious in size and detail, the fact remains it is as good as any dressed chicken that you get in a restaurant -- only the taste is finger licking, the content is no different and the quality may be worse.
According to The Economic Times priority household, the main beneficiaries of the bill, will be selected from the poorest 46 per cent in rural areas and 26 per cent in urban areas. Another 29 per cent and 22 per cent from rural to urban areas, respectively will be treated as general category. Well, before you get lost in the complex mire of figures, let me tell you what it entails. It says nothing new that was not existing in the earlier public distribution system that prevailed except that under the proposed Food Security bill the actual number of beneficiaries have been reduced and also the quantum of grain to be provided has also been curtailed.
Earlier, more than 900 million people officially had access to the PDS now it will be close to 75 per cent of the population. Also, every above poverty line (APL) family was earlier getting 25 kg of grains which has now been reduced to 15 kg for the 'general' category. The bill also calls for improved 'modern and scientific storage' and doorstep delivery of grain to targeted PDS outlets, which for those of you who have followed the way the government works, means nothing in reality.
I have earlier analysed the food crisis and the way we are addressing the monumental problem and therefore will not go into it again. Do look at my one of my latest postings How to Feed the Hungry http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.com/2010/04/how-to-feed-hungry.html and other blogposts under the labels Hunger. What I want to draw your attention is to the recommendation that I had feared most. I have a number of times warned that the primary objective of this entire redrafting exercise is to create a new set up for a favoured few who occupy the position of National Food Security Commissioner at the national level, and also provides an opening of 28 State Food Security Commissioners at the State level.
So here we are. The draft Food Bill according to the newspaper report (http://bit.ly/l13Ekr) proposes: "the draft bill is that it pushes for the creation of an advisory body called the National Food Security Commission to help the central government implement the landmark welfare scheme. The commission will advise the central government on "synergising existing schemes and framing news ones for entitlements". It will also recommend steps for effective implementation of schemes through greater government oversight by dramatically overhauling the nation's food distribution system, says the draft.
Under the food commission's watch, guidelines will be issued for the training, capacity building and performance management of people involved in the implementation of welfare schemes, says the draft. The commission will also prepare annual reports on implementation of the Act.
The commission will be headquartered in Delhi and comprise a chairperson, a vice-chairperson and five other members, provided that there at least two women and at least one person each from the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. The centre will pay the salaries of the commission's bosses, support staff and administrative expenses, says the draft."
Every crisis is an opportunity. Hunger too has come in handy for some members of the National Advisory Council to find a cushy job. It also provides for a Secretariat at the national and also at the State levels -- all to be paid for from taxpayers money. I am sure the Right To Food movement must now be feeling elated. After all, the State Advisers to the Supreme Court appointed Commissioner on Hunger can now look forward to a highly paid bureaucratic job. I am told the original demand has to been to extend the status and perks of a Supreme Court judge to the National Food Security Commissioner. Similarly, the State Food Security Commissioners would be accorded the rank of a High Court judge.
What I fail to understand is how do we expect the proposed National Food Security Commission to make a difference when the Supreme Court appointed Commissioners failed to make any tangible difference to the plight of the poor and hungry, and that too despite the Supreme Court monitoring it periodically?
Each State has a Food Secretary and a full-fledged department that caters to food supply and has a mandate to ensure that no one goes to bed hungry. How will the creation of another set of bureaucracy help in better monitoring of the existing schemes? In any case, the State Food Security Commission will have to get the delivery done through the same system that it considers ineffective and unworthy of the great humanitarian task.
The National Food Security Commission would comprise a chairperson, vice-chairperson and five other members. It must include at least two women and at least one person each from the scheduled caste and scheduled tribes. A similar structure would be created at the state level. If only the crores to be spent on the new bureaucratic set up to monitor the effectiveness of the provisions of the proposed national Food Security Act is to be spent instead on feeding the hungry, I am sure hundreds of thousands more can be fed every year.
Didn't someone say that every disaster provides an opportunity?