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16 November, 2009

Civil Society demands food security for all

A number of human rights activists working on right to food issues in fourteen districts gathered in Jaipur on November 9 to discuss the current food insecurity as well as the upcoming enactment of the National Food Security Act.

Most of the participants raised questions about the malfunction of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) ensuring the right to work and right to food due to the underpayment or delayed payment practised by corrupt officials. Moreover, they pointed out that the earmarked payment Rs.100 a day is not enough to manage three meals a day due to soaring food prices. Furthermore, the 100 days-employment is also insufficient since the drought, particularly this year in Rajasthan, has been affecting food security in the village resulting in less harvest and therefore less employment.

In Barmer district, the villagers started selling their job cards issued under NREGA to others. The Job card holders rather decide to migrate to other states, such as Punjab or Gujarat to seek longer employment with better payment. Many of job card holders are less paid than 100 rupees and do not get the full-100 days of employment, which is prevalent in the areas in which the NREGA was launched.

Under the Public Food Distribution System (PDS), the wheat is distributed to the BPL families raging from 10 kilograms (Rajsamand district for instance) to 28 kilograms, which is less than the 35 kilograms earmarked by the state government.

It is said that 278 districts across India have been struck by the worst drought this year. Rajasthan, known as a dessert area, has been affected worse than other states. Despite the fact that most of the districts suffer from drought, the government has till not taken any action. According to the order which resulted from the drought in 2001-02, the district collector has an obligation to have a monthly meeting to discuss counter plans and open the water tank. In addition to the 100 days-employment under the NREGA, the villagers are entitled to get 10 days more during the drought. However, it has been suggested that the government should provide unlimited employment to the villagers during the drought.

The villagers in rural areas who are deprived of the right to work suffer from lack of livelihood and have no choice but to migrate to the city or other states in order to feed their families. The corruption practised by public servants has been leading a failure of the implementation of the government policy on the right to work, which results in constant migration. The migration this year has been promoted by the worsening drought. In addition, it is even more difficult for the migrant family to get benefits from the government services ensuring their rights.

In the context of the worsening status in food security, the civil society groups are complaining against the proposed National Food Security Act which merely ensures the provision of 25 kilograms of food grains to every Below the Poverty Line (BPL) family at three rupees. The groups are concerned that the government may delay its enactment and fulfilment of the National Food Security Act and are demanding immediate guarantees on access to safe and adequate food in various aspects to which the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) also gives its support. The civil society groups will have a rally in Delhi on November 26 to call for the enactment of the National Food Security Act and reflect their demands as below.

1. Enact a Food Entitlements Act immediately

The drought should not be used as an excuse to delay the enactment of a broad based and comprehensive food entitlements act that ensures long term food security for all.

2. Universalise the Public Food Distribution System (PDS)

a. Every resident of this country must be covered by the PDS;
b. Each adult must be entitled to 14 kilograms of cereals per month, along with 1.5 kilograms of pulses and 800 grams of cooking oil;
c. Cereals must include nutritious millets
d. Cereals must be priced at two rupees per kilogram, pulses at 20 rupees and cooking oil at 35 rupees;
e. Decentralise the procurement, storage and distribution of food;
f. Rations cards must be issued in the name of the female head of the household.

3. Follow a "Food First" Policy: Incentivize domestic food production and consumption and revitalize agriculture

a. Stop forcible diversion of land, water and forests from food production. The first call on all natural resources must be for food;
b. No export of food till malnutrition is eradicated;
c. Protect Indian farmers by ensuring no food imports except temporarily during shortages;
d. Fix remunerative prices for food items so that farmers find it viable to produce food;
e. Eliminate the entry of corporate interests and private contractors in food production, the food market and nutrition-related schemes;
f. Immediate moratorium on Genetically Modified (GM) seeds and use of GM food in government food schemes;
g. Ensure access to safe drinking water and sanitation for all.

4. Special protection for excluded and vulnerable groups and in disasters

a. Special protection to vulnerable groups such as the elderly, disabled, female-headed or child-headed households, destitute people, "primitive" and de-notified tribes, urban destitute, etc.;
b. Antyodaya cards which entitle them to PDS items at half the prices of the general population;
c. Additional entitlements such as access to cooked meals, admission for children to residential schools, double quota of all entitlements; one quintal of free food grains etc for them;
d. Pensions at half the statutory minimum wages for the elderly and disabled (ie at an average of around 1,300 rupees per month at the current rate);
e. Special food security policies for migrant workers and urban destitute;
f. Special measures in all emergencies (including starvation and chronic hunger) and natural and man-made disasters.

5. No dilution of Supreme Court orders
The food entitlement act must ensure that legal entitlement and other enabling orders issued by the Supreme Court on the right to food are not diluted in anyway.

6. Put in place an effective grievance redress system

a. Fines and criminal penalties for wrong-doers and compensation for the wronged;
b. Strong in-built transparency mechanism, and mandatory social audits;
c. Accountability must be fixed at all levels.

7. Affirmative action towards people who are socially discriminated

a. At least 50% of jobs for cooks and helpers must be for Dalits, Adivasis (tribes) and members of the minority community;
b. Priority to Dalit, Adivasi and minority community hamlets in the location of Anganwadis (child care centre) and ration shops.

8. Immediate action on hunger, drought and violations

a. Every adult should get employment on demand. NREGA works should be implemented in drought stricken regions without a cap on the number of days. After the commencement of NREGA, public works need to be converged with NREGA, rather than creating a separate machinery and set of rules for relief works;
b. Wages should be fixed at 20% above the state's Statutory Minimum Wage. The current wage freeze must be immediately lifted;
c. Raise PDS entitlement by 50%;
d. Immediate supply of food, water and fodder to alleviate hunger and suffering in the 278 drought and cyclone-affected districts;
e. Mid Day Meals Scheme to all out of school children and MDM should continue during vacations;
f. Ensure full coverage under Antyodaya of all primitive tribal groups, disabled, aged, and other vulnerable groups;
g. Government must immediately redress of complaints of violation of Right to Food Orders and NREGA.

Mr. Ashok, an advisor of the Supreme Court Commission on the right to food, who attended the meeting, explained that the universalization of the PDS to all citizens excluding certain groups like government officials, aims to provide subsidised food grains to all BPL families amounting for more than 70 percent of the total population, whereas the current PDS cover about 35% of the population. He also emphasized that the universalisation to all can reduce the possibility of corruption.

The Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong, which distributed the above report on the Jaipur meeting adds, “The AHRC has been observing the deep-rooted corruption in all government services ensuring people's rights particularly relating to right to food for years by reporting Hunger Alerts. However, further action is required to set up the mechanism to punish corruption which deprives persons of food security”.

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