On May 22, the UPA-2 government “celebrated” its fourth anniversary and congratulated itself for its performance on delivery of services to the people. However, the facts speak otherwise. The UPA government is yet to deliver on its promise of implementing a plan to ensure food for its people. It is an indictment of successive governments and the major political parties that they have been unwilling and unable to ensure minimum food and nutrition to the billions of working people of urban and rural India. Starvation deaths, deaths of infants and child-bearing women due to malnutrition etc. are regularly reported from different parts of the country. Toilers and tillers are forced to go to an early grave because of hunger, malnutrition and related diseases.
The National Food Security Bill 2013 (NFSB) which is claiming to address this critical issue was to have been introduced in the current Lok Sabha session. This Bill which has been in the drafting stage for quite some time has undergone a large number of amendments and was finally approved by the cabinet of the UPA Govt. It is more than two and a half years since the first “Expert Group” on Food met, in December 2010, to examine the recommendations of the National Advisory Council (NAC) on the proposed National Food Security Bill. Forced by the people’s anger over unaffordable food prices during the campaign for the Lok Sabha elections in 2009, every party had to pay at least lip service to the issue. In this context, the Congress had promised to tackle the issue on a “war footing” if voted to power. Four years have passed since the second UPA Government headed by Manmohan Singh took charge!
The Bill in its present avatar (see Box) was approved at an all-party meeting before the second leg of the Budget session. Organisations of workers and peasants all over the country have raised the demand for a universal Public Distribution System (PDS), accessible to all and covering all essential items, not just wheat and rice. Far from ensuring any food security, the aim of this bill is to create the illusion that the UPA government is concerned about eradicating hunger and malnutrition, while in fact the Bill guarantees nothing to the working masses of town and country.
The NFSB not only denies universality of right to food, but divides the people, with serious consequences for their unity in fighting for the right to food as a constitutional right for all which is justicable. The division of the population into “priority” and other than priority is no different in essence from the present division of the population into BPL and APL and the no card category. This division has been and remains arbitrary. It has been and will be used by the state and ruling class parties to bestow favours on some, and deprive others, all for pursuing their vote bank politics.
Secondly, the NFSB reduces the concept of food security to providing minimum calories in the form of wheat or rice only to members of households that it has declared as “priority’’. There is no question of providing pulses, cooking oil, fuel, and other necessities to the toiling people. In a word, it is an outright attack on the working masses being carried out in their name.
The present draft of the Bill proposes to reduce existing multiple entitlements - 35 kg of food grains per household along with other entitlements such as reduced prices for the PDS grain under Antyodaya Anna Yojana for vulnerable sections of society, supplementary nutrition for infants and young children under ICDS, maternity entitlements under National Maternity Benefits Scheme and Janini Suraksha Yojana, school mid-day meals, old age pensions and addressing needs of the homeless and urban poor, street children, single women and infants under six months – under a single entitlement. It is not as if these entitlements have been taken up afresh by this Bill to actually extend its scope to cover all vulnerable populations.
A modern universal Public Distribution System is the only solution
In 2007, when the then government brought in the Targeted PDS, it used the argument that the universal PDS was beset with leakages and the PDS was not reaching the very beneficiaries it was meant to reach. Today the TPDS has been proved to have excluded most beneficiaries it was meant to cover; now, the government is talking of the NFBS but restricting its coverage based on the argument that a universal system would contribute to the growing budget deficit and exacerbate the inflationary pressures in the economy. But this is a worn out tune sung by every bourgeois government that there is no money for financing measures that are necessary to fulfill the basic demands of the people. At the same time, the loot of public money by the bourgeoisie and the payments to arms dealers are considered top priority and allocated the lion’s share of public resources.
The demand of the working class is clearly that the government must provide for universal protection from hunger, which means adequate supply of food at affordable prices for all. It is a right that belongs to all human beings by virtue of the fact that they are members of a modern civilized society. For this, the wholesale distribution of food must be nationalized and the government must allocate the financial resources necessary to ensure a modern and universal PDS. To the contrary, the bourgeoisie is following a set of policies, aimed at allowing maximum space for private profits to be reaped, in production, distribution and export. This is the outlook underlying the progressive liberalization of trade in food and other commodities in our country which made India the largest rice exporting country of the world last year. The National Food Security Bill is a continuation of the process of cutting down public spending on food, cutting down eligibility to access the Public Distribution System, in the name of making it more efficient, and in the name of “targeting the very poor”. The ruling class and its economic pundits do not want to admit that the destruction of the Public Distribution System is largely to blame for the present situation, in which workers and peasants are at the mercy of global market upheavals and profiteering traders.
To treat food as an essential public good means to organize its procurement and distribution according to one common plan, under the control of the workers and peasants who produce and consume food, with no role for any private profiteering or middleman’s commission.
Workers and peasants cannot and must not accept anything less than a modern universal PDS, open to all, and covering all essential items of mass consumption. The Communist Ghadar Party has been and will continue to work to organize the working class to rally the peasants around the program to reorient the economy and establish a state that provides constitutional guarantee and enabling mechanisms for the right to food to all.
Scope and Coverage of the NFS Bill 2013
Coverage to only two thirds population to get subsidized food grains - up to 75% of the rural population and up to 50% of the urban population will have uniform entitlement of 5 kg food grains per month per person at subsidized prices of Rs. 3, Rs. 2, and Rs. 1 per kg. for rice, wheat, coarse grains respectively. It will entitle about two thirds of the country’s 1.2 billion population to subsidized food grains under the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS).
Eligible households to be identified by the States - corresponding to the coverage of 75% rural and 50 % of urban population at all India level, State wise coverage will be determined by the Planning Commission. The work of identification of eligible households is left to the States/UTs, which may frame their own criteria or use Social Economic and Caste Census data.
Poorest of the poor continue to get 35 kg per household - the poorest of poor households would continue to receive 35 Kg food grains per household per month under Anthodia Anna Yana at subsidized prices of Rs 3, Rs 2 and Rs 1. It is also proposed to protect the existing allocation of food grains to the States/Uts, subject to it being restricted to average annual off take during the last three years.