Wednesday, 27 April 2016

NATIONAL FOOD AND SECURITY ACT 2013 - Analytical Study

IINTRODUCTION:  The Government of India has notified the National Food Security Act, 2013 on 10th September, 2013 with the objective 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. The Bill seeks “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 and for matters connected therewith and incidental thereto”.    The Act provides for coverage of up to 75% of the rural population and up to 50% of the urban population for receiving subsidized food grains under Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), thus covering about two-thirds of the population. The eligible persons will be entitled to receive 5 Kgs of food grains per person per month at subsidised prices of Rs. 3/2/1 per Kg for rice/wheat/coarse grains. The existing Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) households, which constitute the poorest of the poor, will continue to receive 35 Kgs of food grains per household per month. The Act also has a special focus on the nutritional support to women and children. Besides meal to pregnant women and lactating mothers during pregnancy and six months after the child birth, such women will also be entitled to receive maternity benefit of not less than Rs. 6,000. Children up to 14 years of age will be entitled to nutritious meals as per the prescribed nutritional standards. In case of non-supply of entitled food grains or meals, the beneficiaries will receive food security allowance.

Women Empowerment: Eldest woman of the household of age 18 years or above to be the head of the household for the purpose of issuing of ration cards.

 The Act also contains provisions for setting up of grievance redressal mechanism at the District and State levels. Separate provisions have also been made in the Act for ensuring transparency and accountability. The National Food Security Act, 2013 (NFSA) provides that every State Government shall, by notification, constitute a State Food Commission for the purpose of monitoring and review of implementation of the Act. It has been decided that in case a State decides to set up State Food Commission on exclusive basis, Central Government will provide one time financial assistance for non building assets for State Food Commission. Accordingly a component viz., "Assistance to States/UTs for non-building assets for State Food Commissions” has been included under the 12th Plan Umbrella Scheme on "Strengthening of PDS & Capacity Building, Quality Control, Consultancies & Research” of the Department. Under this component, the assistance is available for non-building assets such as furniture, office equipment, computers etc. These may include computers, air-conditioners, photocopiers, Fax machines, telephones, EPABX system, tables, chairs, storage units etc. Under the scheme, assistance is not provided for any construction activity or any recurring expenses.

Historical Background:
“Umbrella” Orders

The Apex Court has issued a number of interim orders from time to time for implementation of various welfare schemes.While most of the interim orders concern specific schemes (e.g. ICDS or Public Distribution System), some of them apply “across the board” to all the relevant schemes. We shall refer to these orders as “umbrella orders”.  Other important umbrella orders include the following:

1. Responsibility for compliance: Chief Secretaries of the concerned states “shall be held responsible” for any “persistent default in compliance with orders”.
2. Accountability to Gram Sabhas: “The Gram Sabhas are entitled to conduct a social audit into all Food/Employment schemes and to report all instances of misuse of funds to the respective implementing authorities, who shall on receipt of such complaints, investigate and take appropriate action in accordance with law.”
3. Access to information: “The Gram Sabhas are empowered to monitor the implementation of the various schemes and have access to relevant information relating to, inter alia, selection of beneficiaries and the disbursement of benefits.”
4. Dissemination of Court orders: 12 Chief Secretaries have been directed “to translate and permanently display” the orders dated 28th November, 2001 and 8th May, 2002 “on all the Gram Panchayats, school buildings and fair price shops”. The Central Government is to give “wide publicity” to these orders through All India Radio and Doordarshan.
5. Schemes not to be discontinued: “No scheme covered by the orders made by this Court… shall be discontinued or restricted in any way without the prior approval of this Court.”13
6. Full utilization of grain quotas: “We direct all the State Governments to forthwith lift the entire allotment of food grains from the Central Government under the various Schemes and disburse the same in accordance with the Schemes.”14
7. Jurisdiction of High Courts in the Right to Food Case: It is important to note here that since the Supreme Court passed these landmark orders, a number of cases have been filed in various High Courts across the country. These writ petitions were filed not only by right to food activists and citizens concerned with the denial of entitlements to poor people in their respective states, but also by vested interest groups (like contractors) who were adversely affected by the Supreme Court orders. In some cases (notably in Rajasthan and Delhi), the High Court’s refused to entertain these petitions since the matter was sub-judicial in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court then, in a significant order dated 1st May 2006 in this case passed an order which settled this issue of jurisdiction of the High Courts in this case. The Supreme Court allowed High Courts to entertain petitions on the “right to food case”, and directed that High Courts could entertain Writ Petitions on the right to food and deal with them appropriately.

Salient Features of the Food Security Act:
Coverage and entitlement under Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS): Up to 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population will be covered under TPDS, with uniform entitlement of 5 kg per person per month. However, since Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) households constitute poorest of the poor, and are presently entitled to 35 kg per household per month, entitlement of existing AAY households will be protected at 35 kg per household per month.

State-wise coverage: Corresponding to the all India coverage of 75% and 50% in the rural and urban areas, State-wise coverage will be determined by the Central Government. Planning Commission has determined the State-wise coverage by using the NSS Household Consumption Survey data for 2011-12.

Subsidised prices under TPDS and their revision: Food grains under TPDS will be made available at subsidised prices of Rs. 3/2/1 per kg for rice, wheat and coarse grains for a period of three years from the date of commencement of the Act. Thereafter prices will be suitably linked to Minimum Support Price (MSP).

In case, any State’s allocation under the Act is lower than their current allocation, it will be protected up to the level of average off take under normal TPDS during last three years, at prices to be determined by the Central Government. Existing prices for APL households i.e. Rs. 6.10 per kg for wheat and Rs 8.30 per kg for rice has been determined as issue prices for the additional allocation to protect the average off take during last three years.

Identification of Households: Within the coverage under TPDS determined for each State, the work of identification of eligible households is to be done by States/UTs.

Nutritional Support to women and children: Pregnant women and lactating mothers and children in the age group of 6 months to 14 years will be entitled to meals as per prescribed nutritional norms under Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and Mid-Day Meal (MDM) schemes. Higher nutritional norms have been prescribed for malnourished children up to 6 years of age.

Maternity Benefit: Pregnant women and lactating mothers will also be entitled to receive maternity benefit of not less than Rs. 6,000.

Grievance Redressal Mechanism: Grievance redressal mechanism at the District and State levels. States will have the flexibility to use the existing machinery or set up separate mechanism.

Cost of intra-State transportation & handling of food grains and FPS Dealers' margin: Central Government will provide assistance to States in meeting the expenditure incurred by them on transportation of food grains within the State, its handling and FPS dealers’ margin as per norms to be devised for this purpose.

Transparency and Accountability: Provisions have been made for disclosure of records relating to PDS, social audits and setting up of Vigilance Committees in order to ensure transparency and accountability.
Food Security Allowance: Provision for food security allowance to entitled beneficiaries in case of non-supply of entitled food grains or meals.

Penalty: Provision for penalty on public servant or authority, to be imposed by the State Food Commission, in case of failure to comply with the relief recommended by the District Grievance Redressal Officer.

 SUPREME COURT ORDERS 2013 ON THE RIGHT TO FOOD
1. “The Gram Sabhas are entitled to conduct a social audit into all Food/Employment schemes and to report all instances of misuse of funds to the respective implementing authorities, who shall on receipt of such complaints, investigate and take appropriate action in accordance with law.”
2. “On a complaint being made to the… CEO/Collector regarding non compliance of the orders of this Court the Concerned CEO/Collector shall record the salient features of the complaint in a register maintained for this purpose, acknowledge receipt of the complaint and forthwith secure compliance with this Court's order.”
3. “The CEO/Collector of all the Districts in the States and territories shall scrutinize the action taken by all the implementing agencies within their jurisdiction to ensure compliance with this court's orders and report to the Chief Secretary.”
4. “The responsibility for implementation of the order of this Court shall be that of the CEO/Collector. The Chief Secretary will ensure compliance with the order of this Court.”
5. “Dr. N.C. Saxena, former Planning Secretary, Government of India, and Mr. S.R. Shankaran, former Secretary, Rural Development, Government of India, shall function as Commissioner's of this Court for the purpose of looking into any grievance that my persist after the above-mentioned grievance resolution procedure has been exhausted.”
6. “On the Commissioner's recommending a course of action to ensure compliance with this Court's order, the State Government/ UT administrations, shall forthwith act upon such recommendation and report compliance.”
7. “The Commissioner's shall be at liberty to take the assistance of individuals and reliable organizations in the State and Union Territories. All officials are directed to fully cooperate with such persons/organizations, to bring about effective monitoring and implementation of the order of this Court.”
8. “The Gram Sabhas are empowered to monitor the implementation of the various schemes and have access to relevant information relating to, inter alia, selection of beneficiaries and the disbursement of benefits. The Gram Sabhas can raise their grievances in the manner set out above and the redressal of the grievances shall be done accordingly.”

If the above mentioned scheme is implemented in letter and spirit, it will prove a mile stone in the history of India. For implementation of the scheme besides co-operation of administrative machinery and public participation at the grass root level is highly required to wipe out the food problem specially, the persons living below poverty line. If the Food Security Problem is solved, the down trodden persons will be able to lead a dignified life. It will also be helpful to fulfil the dreams of Constitution makers i.e. the State shall strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice, social, economic and political, shall inform all the institutions of the national life.

Author
Dr. Hari Mohan Mittal,
Professor - School of Law

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