Proposed National Food Security Bill is unique initiative to provide for food and nutritional security in human life cycle approach, by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices. Nowhere in the world, such a social justice programme has been attempted at such a gigantic scale. This was stated by Prof. K.V.Thomas, Minister for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution while delivering the inaugural address at the ˜South Asia Policy Dialogue on Regional Cooperation for Strengthening National Food Security Strategies™ organised by the ESCAP, here today. Prof. Thomas said that the proposed Bill provides statutory basis for a framework which assures food security for every family below the poverty line in rural as well as urban areas of the country .
Listing out the important features of the Food Bill, Prof .Thomas said after the enactment two-third of the population will become legally entitled to receive highly subsidized food grains. Each entitled person will receive 5 kg of food grains per month i.e. rice, wheat or coarse grains at Rs.3, Rs.2 and Re. 1 per kg. respectively. The poorest of the poor who have been getting 35 kg of food grains, will continue to get 35 kg food grains per household per month under AAY. He said that with the aim of giving special focus to women and children. The Act will ensure that the eldest woman of the household above 18 years is considered the head of the household for the purpose of issue of ration cards. Not only that pregnant women and lactating mother will get maternity benefit of Rs. 6000/- and pregnant women and children below 14 years of age will get nutritious meals, with higher nutritional norms for malnourished children. On the issue of redressing grievances that may arise in implementation of such a massive social justice programme, it has been planned to give an increased role for Panchayati Rajinstitutions and women™s self help group in programme-monitoring and social auditing. There will be provision for internal grievance redressal mechanism including call centres and help lines; and District Grievance Redressal Officers and State Food Commission for expeditious and effective.
Full text of Shri Thomas speech is as follows:-
It gives me immense pleasure to be amongst this distinguished gathering at this ˜policy dialogue™ on a very important topic having relevance not just to the South Asian countries but to the whole world as each of us strive to ensure that the world becomes hunger-free in consonance with the initiative taken recently by the U.N. Secretary General to face Zero Hunger Challenge. I congratulate the ESCAP South and South-West Asia Office in organising this South Asia policy dialogue on regional cooperation for strengthening national food security strategies to develop a common understanding of opportunities and challenges that confront us in the area of food security for our population. I also extend a warm welcome, on behalf of the people of India, to our guests from South Asian countries who have assembled here to exchange their views and to give us the benefit of their advice and suggestions on food security in South Asia.
The South Asian countries such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have a common history and a distinct geographical identity. These countries are also united through culture and tradition. The South Asian countries account for about 34% of Asia`s population (or over 16.5% of the world`s population which is more than 1.6 billion of people) and are home to a vast array of peoples. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), Asia would account for about one-half of the world™s undernourished population, of which two-thirds would be from South Asia, which remains a major cause for concern. Majority of the South Asian population lives in rural areas and most of them rely on agriculture for their livelihood. Being the most populous and the most densely populated geographical region in the world, the South Asian region naturally has a high stake in global efforts in confronting global hunger and malnutrition.
Declining investments in research and infrastructure, falling water tables, global warming and climate change are considered crucial factors that affect food security across the globe. Coming to South Asian region, the agriculture sector is confronted with various problems like low productivity, price fluctuations, low returns to farmers, diversion of agricultural land to other purposes, etc. The need of the hour is increased investment, policy reforms, innovations in agro-ecology to keep up with challenging times, et al. These, I believe, may guide us to sustainable and yield-increasing techniques that may revolutionize our agriculture production. Needless to say, regional cooperation in exchange of ideas, experiences and strategies that can bring in buoyancy in agricultural production will go a long way in further strengthening bonds and friendship among countries of the South Asian region. I would like to say a few words about Kuttanad below sea-level farming system practiced in my home State Kerala, known as God™s Own Country, which will be of some interest to this august gathering. The farming system was formally declared as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) by the United Nation™s Food and Agriculture Organization. The farmers of Kuttanad have developed and mastered the spectacular technique of below sea-level cultivation over 150 year ago. They made this system unique as it contributes remarkably well to the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services, including several livelihood services for local communities. I understand that the below sea-level farming practiced in Kuttanad is of great interests to countries such as Malaysia, Bangladesh and the Maldives. I wanted to mention about this because these are examples of unique and successful experiments in the field of agriculture production, on which one country may take guidance from another to take advantage of such innovative techniques.
A large part of the debate on Indian agriculture is concentrated around food security concerns of the people of the country. It is estimated that our country™s population will touch 1.3 billion by 2018. Therefore, while on the one hand, we have to take care of the present food needs of the people, we also have to plan to ensure that the challenges that the population increase poses, in terms of food needs, over the years is also kept in mind. We cannot grow land; but we can certainly find new techniques to grow more with the available land. India™s agriculture history can be traced back to at least 10 thousand years. Now our country occupies the coveted second position in agricultural production in the world. The food grain production which was at 51 million tonnes in 1950-51 has touched 255.36 million tonnes in 2012-13, an increase in production by more than five times around a period of six decades. In respect of fruit and vegetables, the production had reached 240.84 million tonnes in 2012-13 from 134.27 million tonnes in 2003-04, a big leap within a decade. The full credit for this achievement must go to our farmers, agricultural scientists as also leaders who took up the challenge of leading the country and its people to prosperity. Now, we look at the eastern part of our country which has enormous, untapped potential for agricultural growth. Therefore, in confidence, we aim at ˜ever-green revolution,™ an attempt at increase in productivity, which must be perpetual and with least harm to our fragile eco system and, it is only a matter of time before we achieve that, too.
Mahatma Gandhi ji said: There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread (food). The Election Manifesto, 2009 of the Congress Party heading the United Progressive Alliance which is in power in India made a commitment to the people of India. The commitment was to enact a new law – the National Food Security Act – that will provide a statutory basis for a framework which assures food security for every family below the poverty line in rural as well as urban areas of the country. I have great pleasure in informing this august gathering that the historic National Food Security (NFS) Bill has been moved in Parliament which is in the process of debating the same (currently an NFS Ordinance is in force), by which 67 per cent of the population are made entitled to receive subsidised grains from the government every month. The most important thing about the Ordinance is that nowhere in the world, such a social justice programme has been attempted at such a gigantic scale. The Ordinance, which is soon going to be converted into an Act of Parliament, aims to provide for food and nutritional security in human life cycle approach, by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices to people to live a life with dignity.
For the benefit of this illustrious gathering I would like to list out the important features of the Ordinance. They are: (1) Right to food: i.e. two-third of the population become legally entitled to receive highly subsidized food grains; (2) each entitled person will receive 5 kg of food grains per month (i.e. rice, wheat or coarse grains at Rs.3, Rs.2 and Re. 1 per kg. respectively; (3) the poorest of the poor who have been getting 35 kg of food grains, will continue to get 35 kg food grains per household per month under AAY. (4) with the aim of giving special focus to women and children, the Ordinance will ensure that the eldest woman of the household above 18 years will be considered the head of the household for the purpose of issue of ration cards; (5) pregnant women and lactating mother will get maternity benefit of Rs. 6000/-, and (6) pregnant women and children below 14 years of age will get nutritious meals, with higher nutritional norms for malnourished children. On the issue of redressing grievances that may arise in implementation of such a massive social justice programme, it has been planned to (1) give an increased role for Panchayati Raj institutions and women™s self help group in programme-monitoring and social auditing; (2) make provision for (a) internal grievance redressal mechanism including call centres and help lines; and (b) District Grievance Redressal Officers and State Food Commission for expeditious and effective redressal of grievances.
So gigantic has been the attempt, the effort has not gone unnoticed by the world. Prof. Amartya Sen, the Nobel Laureate, had come strongly in favour of the ˜food security™ for the poor of the country, for Prof. Sen felt that that if the Bill was not passed, several hundred children would go hungry or die from under-nutrition. Ladies and Gentlemen: the world has become a global village. No more can we do something in one country and not expect its vibrations and repercussions in some other parts of the globe. The people of the South Asian countries share not just their past, but their future, too. Though poverty drags us down, we are not going to let it prevent our onward march to a brighter future for our peoples. Each country of the region has its blessings. All nations of the South Asian region can cooperate in understanding and appreciating our difficulties and in extending hands of friendship to one another. Through this opportunity, I have great pleasure in extending to all the dignitaries from the South Asian region the promise that India, as the country which postulated from time immemorial, Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu (let the whole world be happy and prosperous), will not shy away from extending any help in terms of our expertise, wisdom, friendship, love and understanding.