Question:- 35. Recently, the Union government has found that 70 lakh beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act are “suspect”. What is the significance of NFSA for India? Discuss the challenges in its implementation. Answer in 250 words.
Aug 09, 2022
The issue of ‘food security’ at the household was continuously being addressed by the Government since long, through the Public Distribution System and the Targeted Public Distribution System but it was the enactment of the landmark National Food Security Act, (NFSA) 2013 that brought a paradigm shift in the approach to food security from welfare to rights based approach. This act aims to provide subsidized food grains to approximately two-third of the country’s population. The Act is being implemented in all the States/UTs, and on an all India basis, out of maximum coverage of 81.34 crore persons, around 80 crore persons have been covered under NFSA at present for receiving highly subsidized foodgrains.
LINKAGE POINT: The salient features of the act are as follows:
1.Coverage and entitlement: Up to 75% of rural and 50% of the urban population will be covered under TPDS, with uniform entitlement of 5kg/person/month ration.
2.Identification of households: The work of identification of eligible households is to be done by States/UTS. The identification of beneficiaries by States/UTs is a continuous process, which involves exclusion of ineligible/fake/duplicate ration cards and also exclusion on account of death, migration etc. and inclusion on account of birth as also that of genuine left-out households.
3.Life-cycle approach: One of the guiding principles of the Act is its life-cycle approach wherein special provisions have been made for pregnant women and lactating mothers and children in the age group of 6 months to 14 years, by entitling them to receive nutritious meal free of cost through a widespread network of Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) centres, called Anganwadi Centres under ICDS scheme and also through schools under Mid-Day Meal (MDM) scheme. Higher nutritional norms have been prescribed for malnourished children upto 6 years of age. Pregnant women and lactating mothers are further entitled to receive cash maternity benefit of not less than Rs. 6,000 to partly compensate for the wage loss during the period of pregnancy and also to supplement nutrition.
4.Women empowerment: Eldest women of the household of age 18 years or above to be deemed as head of the household for the purpose of issuing ration cards.
5.Grievance Redressal: Act calls for dedicated mechanism for grievance redressal at district and state level. In case of non-supply of the entitled quantities of foodgrains or meals to entitled persons under NFSA, such persons shall be entitled to receive such food security allowance from the concerned State Government to be paid to each person, within such time and manner as may be prescribed by the Central Government.
6.Transparency/Accountability: Provisions regarding social audits, setting up of vigilance committees, disclosure of PDS records etc.
The challenges associated with the implementation of NFSA are listed below:
1.The effective implementation of the NFSA remains with the states/UTs and as governance differs from state to state, the effectiveness of the implementation would also differ in each state.
2.Lack of Transparency: According to a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) audit conducted in 2016, the wrong people were benefiting from the NFSA. It accuses many states of implementing the NFSA despite owning the information that their beneficiaries list is spurious.
3.Leakages in PDS: Issues like pilferage, diversion of food grains and exclusion of entitled beneficiaries pilferage during transportation of food grains
4.Storage: According to the CAG audit, the available storage space was inadequate for the allocated quantity of food grains.
5.Quality of food grains: people often complain that the quality of the food grains is not up to the mark and that the grains sometimes have to be mixed with other grains to be edible. Complaints stating that the grains also consist of non-food particles such as pebbles have also been registered.
6.A critical point in the debate over NFSA is that it doesn’t guarantee a universal right to food.
The Government should provide strategies for better food storage, and adopt an integrated policy framework to facilitate agriculture productivity.The usage of Information Technology throughout the process from acquisition of the food grains to distribution will aid in enhancing the effectiveness of the process.For example, in January 2021, the DigiLocker facility has been advocated for adoption in the PDS. This is to help make e-ration cards accessible for the beneficiaries anytime from anywhere under the One National One Ration Card Scheme.Information regarding the entire process from the quality of food grains to the storage facilities where the grains were stored, should be available to the beneficiaries.A one ration card system would be effective in eliminating the confusion, especially for the migrants, as this would provide the beneficiaries with the freedom to choose from the PDS shop of their choice.
Recently, the first edition of the State Ranking Index for National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013 was released. The findings from the exercise revealed that most states and union territories have fared well in digitization, Aadhaar seeding, and ePoS installation, which reiterates the strength and scale of the reforms.However, states and union territories can improve their performance in a few areas. Exercises, such as conducting and documenting social audits thoroughly and operationalizing functions of state food commissions across states and union territories, will further bolster the true spirit of the Act.It will lead to healthy competition among States to further their enhance performance. Such kind of welfare spending is essential to partly redress the widening inequality in Indian society.