In midst of the nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus outbreak in the community, the Finance minister announced for Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana relief package worth Rs 1.70 lakh crore on 26 March 2020. The package was aimed to alleviate the distress of those that are least equipped to bear the cost of staying at home.
In terms of fulfilling the food requirement, the increased entitlement of food grains which is supplied through the public distribution system (PDS) is a major development. Currently under the PDS, 5 kg of cereals per person per month at Rs 2/kg and Rs 3/kg wheat and rice, respectively is provided to a household. Now, under the package, an additional 5 kg of wheat or rice would be given per person per month and free of cost. This change will be effective for the next three months. It is estimated that around 80 crore persons covered under the Nation Food Security Act will get the benefit.
The National Food Security Act 2013 (NFSA 2013) is also known as the ‘Right to Food’ act. It was signed into law on 12 September 2013. NFSA 2013 converts into legal entitlements for existing food security programs of the Government of India. It includes the Midday Meal Scheme, Integrated Child Development Services scheme and the Public Distribution System. Further, the NFSA 2013 recognizes maternity entitlements. The Midday Meal Scheme and the Integrated Child Development Services Scheme are universal in nature whereas the PDS will reach about two-thirds of the population (75% in rural areas and 50% in urban areas).
According to United Nations’ Committee on World Food Security, food security means that “all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life”. Further ‘right to adequate food’ has been recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 and also by International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966 to which India is a signatory.
Constitutionally, there is no direct reference to food security, though Article 47 of the Indian Constitution talks about the duty of the state to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health. Further, the Supreme Court in Chameli Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh (1996) said that the right to life in any civilized society implies the ‘right to food’.
The preamble of the act declares it to be “an act to provide for the food and nutritional security in human life cycle approach, by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at an affordable price to live a life with dignity.” It seeks to deliver food security to targeted beneficiaries covering roughly 67 per cent of the country’s population (up to 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population).
The act empowers the central government to identify the number of people who will get the benefit out of it. Each state government is further responsible to specify the criteria for the identification of the households. Based on all such data and criteria, the central government allocates food grains to the states for distribution through PDS.
The eligible population gets Rice at Rs. 3 per kg, Wheat at Rs. 2 per kg and Coarse Grains at Rs. 1 kg per month subject to a maximum of 5 kg per month per person. These prices are fixed in the schedule of the act which can be revised every three years only. However, the beneficiaries covered under Antyodaya Anna Yojana, a scheme for the priority group created under the act, which constitutes the poorest of the poor, will receive 35 kg per household per month at the same rates.
The act goes further protecting the rights of infants, children and lactating women with different slabs of entitlements for them. It guarantees age-based appropriate meals, free of charge, through local Anganwadi centers for children up to 6 months and a one-time free meal for children in the age group 6 to 14 years in schools. Further, it provides that every pregnant and lactating mother is entitled to a free meal at the local Anganwadi center during pregnancy and after the six months of childbirth, in addition to maternity benefits of Rs 6,000 which is to be paid in installments.
The act fixes the responsibility of every state government to:
The act also provides for the establishment of both national and state food commission for the monitoring of the scheme and grievance redressal. Further, the state governments are empowered to appoint district grievance redressal officers in every district so that aggrieved persons may complain to regarding non-distribution of the food materials.
(Author is working with research and communications team at SDC Foundation. He tweets at stoic_gautamkr)