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23 July, 2012

India needs a comprehensive food security legislation

The Right to Campaign is alarmed by today’s mediareports that indicate that the Government continues to have a minimalist vision for the National Food Security Bill.  The Right to Food Campaign has been demanding a comprehensive food security legislation that takes in account the production, procurement, storage and distributional aspects of food security along with making special provisions for vulnerable groups such as children, migrants, the aged and disabled. We have repeatedly stated that the current draft of the Bill is minimalist and unacceptable as it seeks to legislate inequity by imposing a Targeted Public Distribution System instead of creating universal entitlements.

In this context, the proposal to do away with the multiple categories (priority, general, etc.) and move towards a uniform entitlement for everyone, except for the rich who will be excluded, is a step forward.  However, if as reported in the press, the category to be excluded is as large as 33% of the population across the country, then this would remain a form of targeting, with many of the needy actually being left out. This still falls far short from the principle of universalisation. Exclusion should rather be based on a few, easily identifiable criteria such as permanent government employees, income tax payers and so on.

Further, we do not see the logic in common entitlement being as low as 25kgs per month per household under this new proposal. The Government cannot continue to argue that there is not enough grain when the FCI godowns are overflowing, with the current foodgrain stocks being around 80 million tonnes. The last three years of UPA rule have seen food inflation spiralling to highest levels in three decades. The Food Ministry has been at the centre of the most scandalous mismanagement of food grains, with huge food stocks rotting in the godowns and set to be exported for consumption by cattle in industrialised countries.

India's poor track record on food and nutrition, and indeed all the social sector indicators along with its patently over-stated ambitions of being a global leader, has made the Government a laughing stock internationally. It cannot be accepted that the Indian Government can afford to contribute $10 billion to the International Monetary Fund to bail out irresponsible European bankers, while it hides behind the excuse of fiscal constraints to explain its inability to guarantee food security to its citizens. In a situation where 46\% of the country’s children remain malnourished such an attitude of the Government is indeed shameful.

We have consistently demanded the strengthening of the NFSB by expanding its scope. The PDS entitlements must be universal and quantities must be linked to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) recommended daily allowances (14kgs per adult). In addition, the PDS must also provide pulses and cooking oil. We believe that introducing such an expanded PDS would be the most appropriate way of dealing with the current contradiction of excess stocks and widespread hunger.
We once again reiterate the core demands of the RTF campaign for the National Food Security Act, and hope that the revised NFSB will include all of these:
• A Universal PDS, which includes cereals, millets, pulses and oil so that all especially the food insecure, the vulnerable, and the deprived get included. The quantity should be decided on the basis of ICMR norms per adult consumption.
• Appropriate MSPs and decentralized procurement of rice, wheat and millets.
• Universalisation with quality of ICDS including the provision of nutritious locally prepared food for all children.
• Entitlements including social security pensions for vulnerable persons – the aged, single women, and persons with disabilities, school mid-day meals, maternity entitlements, and community kitchens in urban areas must be ensured.
With Regards,
Kavita Srivastava
(National Convenor, Steering Committee on behalf of the Right to Food Campaign)

Members of the Steering Committee of the Right to Food Campaign:

Annie Raja (National Federation for Indian Women), Anuradha Talwar and Gautam Modi (New Trade Union Initiative), Arun Gupta and Radha Holla (Breast Feeding Promotion Network of India), Arundhati Dhuru and Ulka Mahajan (National Alliance of People’s Movements), Asha Mishra and Vinod Raina (Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti), Aruna Roy, Anjali Bharadwaj and Nikhil Dey (National Campaign for People's Right to Information), Ashok Bharti (National Conference of Dalit Organizations), Colin Gonsalves (Human Rights Law Network), G V Ramanjaneyulu (Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture), Kavita Srivastava and Binayak Sen (People’s Union for Civil Liberties), Lali Dhakar, Sarawasti Singh, Shilpa Dey and Radha Raghwal (National Forum for Single Women’s Rights), Mira Shiva and Vandana Prasad (Jan Swasthya Abhiyan), Paul Divakar and Asha Kowtal (National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights), Prahlad Ray and Anand Malakar (Rashtriya Viklang Manch), Subhash Bhatnagar (National Campaign Committee for Unorganized Sector workers), Jean Drèze and V.B Rawat (Former Support group to the Campaign),  Ritu Priya (JNU)

Representatives of Right to Food (State campaigns):

Veena Shatrugna, M Kodandram and Rama Melkote (Andhra Pradesh), Saito Basumaatary and Sunil Kaul (Assam), Rupesh (Bihar), Gangabhai and Sameer Garg (Chhattisgarh), Pushpa, Dharmender, Ramendra, Yogesh, Vimla and Sarita (Delhi), Sejal Dand and Sumitra Thakkar (Gujarat), Abhay Kumar and Clifton (Karnataka), Balram, Gurjeet Singh and James Herenj (Jharkhand), Sachin Jain (Madhya Pradesh), Mukta Srivastava and Suresh Sawant (Maharashtra), Tarun Bharatiya (Meghalaya), Chingmak Chang (Nagaland) Bidyut Mohanty and Raj Kishore Mishra, Vidhya Das, Manas Ranjan (Orissa), Ashok Khandelwal, Bhanwar Singh and Vijay Lakshmi (Rajasthan), V Suresh (Tamil Nadu), Bindu Singh (Uttar Pradesh),  Fr. Jothi SJ and Mr. Saradindu Biswas (West Bengal)
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This statement has been distributed by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong, a regional non-governmental organization that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights.

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