Sanjay Kaul, former joint secretary, Department of Food and Public Distribution, says that the much-awaited Bill has a number of lacunae, and will do little to mitigate the appalling levels of malnutrition and will not curb rising food prices
The much awaited Food Security Bill may not be adequate to cope with the issue of inflation and malnutrition, says an expert.
"The Food Security Bill, which the government says will be the answer to our problems, has serious problems," said Sanjay Kaul, MD and CEO of National Collateral Management Services (NCMS) and former joint secretary, Department of Food and Public Distribution. Speaking at a seminar hosted by the Observer Research Foundation on Wednesday, he said, "The Bill lays emphasis only on cereals, neglecting other food items and overlooking the issue of nutrition, which should be the end target."
The Food Security Bill, which the finance minister promised will be tabled this year, talks about increasing the subsidy on procurement of rice and wheat by the poor.
However, as Mr Kaul pointed out, it does not take into account vegetables, fruits, pulses and milk-which actually fuelled inflation last year.
"In rice and wheat prices, we have seen only 1% inflation. What we should really be bothered is about the other items; especially vegetables, fruits and pulses, where we see substantial scarcity," said Mr Kaul.
He pointed out that while India is fairly self sufficient in rice and wheat production (in fact, there is a surplus of 25 million tonnes (MT) currently, there is a shortage in supply of edible oils and pulses, which have shown no growth in the last five years.
India produces about 12MT of pulses, whereas the requirement in 2010 was 15MT, and will rise to 20MT in 2020. Since only a few countries actually produce pulses and fewer export, India will face a severe shortage. The demand for milk will also increase, from the present 106MT to 166MT.
Estimates by NCMS show that per capita consumption of cereals has actually gone down, whereas that of other food items has seen a rise. "The government has spotted this trend," said Mr Kaul. "Hence, provisions about new cold storages for vegetables and others have been outlined in the Budget. But given the state of public distribution and storage systems in the country, it is uncertain how effective we will be in decreasing wastage and leakage," he said.
Mr Kaul also spoke about the appalling levels of malnutrition prevailing in India. "(A total of) 45% of our children suffer from malnutrition, against 62% observed in 1975," he said. "It is a shameful figure, because we actually are worse than sub-Saharan nations. After 60 years of Independence, the figure should have gone down to 10%. In 40% (of) adults, we have seen a chronic energy deficiency. Food security should aim at eradicating malnutrition, but the Bill does not say anything about it," he said.
He said that the government is likely to talk about improving the PDS (public distribution system), but instead of only increasing subsidies, it is important to see that the rations reach the poor.
"It will be helpful if the government distributes coupons to the poor. Outsourcing the work to private enterprises must be considered, because (the) government machinery itself has failed to bring about any change," he said.