Statement of Lok Raj Sangathan on the Draft Food Security Bill, 19 December, 2011.

Lok Raj Sangathan strongly conveys its opposition to the draft Food Security Bill that will be presented to Parliament on December 19th and thereafter referred to a standing committee.

The draft has ignored all the constructive suggestions and demands put forward by those organisations and individuals who have been steadfastly fighting for a legislation that will guarantee the right to food for all. This reveals yet again the fraudulent nature of the “consultation” that the government claims to have organised among the Indian people. It has become a sickening practice of law makers to put up drafts of legislation for discussion and consultation, pretending that people’s voices will be heard, while finally pushing through a draft that is totally against the interests of the people.

The present draft does not recognise the right of people to food in adequate quantity and quality as a fundamental right. The proposed legislation arbitrarily claims that only some sections of the Indian people require food from the public distribution system. It categories these people as “priority” and “general” categories who will be eligible for subsidised food through the PDS.

The draft Bill also restricts the definition of food security to those food items that the government has been distributing through the PDS. These normally include rice, wheat and sugar leaving out many food items that are essential for the healthy growth and development of human beings.

The present draft Bill proposes this farce of “food security” coverage to only 75% of the rural population with at least 46% belonging to Below Poverty Line (BPL) category. The coverage will be for 50% of urban population with at least 20% from the BPL category. The way the government decides which families should fall into APL and BPL categories has been vehemently contested by various groups and individuals and by the government’s own bodies and experts. The coverage proposed by the Bill clearly indicates that a vast majority of the Indian people will not benefit from the proposed legislation.

The draft Bill links food security rights of general sections to the so-called reforms in the PDS. These reforms, which are outlined in as a separate chapter in the Bill, include highly contested policy measures such as cash transfers instead of foodgrains. The cash transfer system is aimed at closing down the PDS and forcing people to buy food in the open market where they will be under the mercy of monopoly traders and retailers. These reforms are aimed to further strengthen the stranglehold of Indian and foreign retail and wholesale monopolies, big import/export traders and finance capital on the entire food chain, causing devastation to millions of small farmers, traders and shop-keepers and hardships to the final consumer.

Lok Raj Sangathan has been campaigning consistently that the basic principle guiding the proposed national food security bill should be that the right to food is universal and inalienable. The right to life defined in Article 21 of the Constitution can have full meaning only if it includes the right to food in adequate quantity and quality for all citizens of India.

A “life-cycle approach” to food security has to be adopted which means that the food and nutrition security of a member of society should be taken care of right from birth throughout their life.

So, instead of dividing citizens into the general and priority category, LRS demands that the proposed Bill should provide for the right to food for all citizens.

Moreover, the right to food should be given a modern definition by which all citizens should be ensured the provision of all essential food items required for a healthy living, which includes not only staple grains such as rice, wheat and millets but also pulses (dhals), vegetables, cooking oil, cooking fuel, sugar, salt, spices and other essentials which are required to prepare wholesome and nutritious food.

The existing PDS is totally inadequate to fulfil this modern definition of the right to food. It has to be thoroughly revamped and modernised and designed to serve the interests of the people. This requires that the proposed Food Security Bill should allocate funds to implement a time-bound programme for modernising the storage of foodgrains, revitalisation of agriculture and food production through affordable inputs, remunerative prices, credit, irrigation, crop insurance and technical assistance and prohibition of diversion of land and water away from food production.

Various organisations had recommended that the PDS should be accountable, where food transactions can be tracked all the way to the cardholders and Fair Price Shops will be managed by community institutions accountable to their customers. Given the availability of modern technology and the huge resources at the disposal of the government, this should be entirely possible. But for this to become a reality, the domination of wholesale traders and large retailers over food production and distribution should be broken. The government should take over foreign trade and wholesale internal trade in all goods. It must further take over large scale retail trade in food commodities.

The present inability of the government to control prices of food commodities including vegetables and fruits shows that this vital sector should not be left in private hands whose aim is to maximise their profits and not the interests of people. The government has followed an export/import policy on food items which has served only the monopoly traders in these commodities, not the farmers and consumers. This has to be changed. The needs of providing food in adequate quantity, affordable prices, and good quality to all the people, must take precedence over everything else. Exports and imports must serve the needs of society, not a handful of greedy traders. Considering the skewed nature of food production in the country, the states should be given all technical and managerial support in revitalising agriculture and procurement & distribution so that food-deficit states can turn into food-surplus states and all areas of the country become self-reliant in food production.

Any legislation that claims to guarantee a particular right requires robust and reliable systems of enforcement and accountability through institutions that are accountable to the people. LRS is of the view that this needs a complete transformation of the existing political process. The current political process excludes the common man from decision making and from playing a central role in day-to-day affairs of society such as ensuring food security for all. Apart from the right to vote in elections from time to time, the common man does not have the right to select and elect representatives of his choice, the right to recall them if they do not perform and the right to initiate legislation. He has no control over the state, district and block level administrators. Such provisions as the Right to Information Act, grievance redressal mechanisms, transparency, appellate bodies, etc have not been able to bring about people’s control over the implementation of government programs.

LRS calls on the people of our country to establish samitis at their places of work and residence, so that they can effectively play a role in running the day-to-day affairs of society and in initiating policies and legislations. To ensure right to food for all LRS demands that People’s Samitis in villages, mohallas and residential colonies should be provided with enforcement mechanisms and police powers to enable the procurement and distribution of food commodities to guarantee the right to food for all.

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