From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : National food security Act (NFSA)
Mains level : Food security, public distribution system and the problem
- The National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013, through the Public Distribution System (PDS), provides a crucial safety net for roughly 800 million people. Even critics of the PDS appreciated its services during the COVID-19 lockdown.
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Background: COVID-19 lockdown and policy gaps in ensuring food security
- Too many still excluded from the PDS: The humanitarian crisis resulting from the COVID-19 lockdown, made it apparent that too many were still excluded from the PDS.
- Governments decision: In response to the humanitarian crisis, the Government made one sensible policy decision swiftly. It doubled the entitlements of the 800 million who were already covered by the PDS (from five kilograms per person per month, to 10kg). But that does nothing for those without ration cards.
National food security Act (NFSA)
- Aims to provide subsidized food grains: The NFS Act, 2013 aims to provide subsidized food grains to approximately two-thirds of India’s 1.2 billion people.
- Legal entitlements for existing food security programs: It was signed into law on 12 September 2013, retroactive to 5 July 2013. It converts into legal entitlements for existing food security programmes of the GoI.
- Integrating various government schemes: It includes the Midday Meal Scheme, Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme and the Public Distribution System (PDS). The Midday Meal Scheme and the ICDS are universal in nature whereas the PDS will reach about wo-thirds of the population (75% in rural areas and 50% in urban areas).
- It recognizes maternity entitlement: Pregnant women, lactating mothers, and certain categories of children are eligible for daily free cereals.
- Key provisions: The NFSA provides a legal right to persons belonging to “eligible households” to receive foodgrains at a subsidised price. It includes rice at Rs 3/kg, wheat at Rs 2/kg and coarse grain at Rs 1/kg under the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS). These are called central issue prices (CIPs).
How Public Distribution System (PDS) is determined?
- PDS coverage is determined by Section 3(2) of the NFSA 2013.
- It states that the entitlements of eligible households “shall extend up to seventy-five per cent of the rural population and up to fifty per cent of the urban population.”
- Section 9 of NFSA required that the total number of persons to be covered “shall be calculated on the basis of the population estimates as per the census of which the relevant figures have been published.”
What are the exclusion problems?
- Coverage ratio is too low: The exclusion problem could be because the NFSA coverage ratios were too low to start with, or due to the ‘freeze’ in coverage in absolute terms (around 800 million).
- Population increase has not been accounted: Between the last Census in 2011 and today, population increase has not been accounted for in determining the number of ration cards. No one could have anticipated that the 2021 Census would be postponed indefinitely. This means that even a decadal update has not happened.
- Lack of sensitivity to understand the problem: There is no attempt at understanding or addressing the hardships of people who are deprived of the food security net that the PDS provides.
- Court’s observation and a suggestion: Government inaction led to the matter being taken to the Supreme Court of India in the Problems and Miseries of Migrant Labourers case. The Court agreed that the prayer to increase coverage “seems to be genuine and justified”. It directed the Union of India to “come out with a formula and/or appropriate policy/scheme, if any, so that the benefits under NFSA are not restricted as per the census of 2011 and more and more needy persons/citizens get the benefit under the National Food Security Act”. Going further, the Court said that the Government could consider “projection of population increase” to resolve this issue.
- Burdening the states: In its response, the Government attempts repeatedly to shift the blame to State governments. But States are responsible for identifying people for PDS ration cards, once they are given the numbers to be covered by the central government.
- Several State governments have used their own resources this includes poor States such as Chhattisgarh and Odisha to expand coverage beyond the centrally determined quotas.
- Robust procurement trends and a comfortable food stocks position are what make an expansion affordable.
- Adjusting for population increase, as directed by the Supreme Court, will increase coverage by roughly 10% (from 800 million to 900 million).
- Any sensible policy should have an in-built mechanism for updating coverage annually to account for population increase.
- Instead of allowing the Government to delay this any further (the matter has been in Court since 2020), the Supreme Court should be firm, directing the Government to get on with apportioning the additional coverage of roughly 100 million across States, so that the States can start identifying new ration card beneficiaries.
Q. What is food security? What is National food security Act? There is number some problems for expanding food security net through PDS. Analyse and suggest way forward.
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