Food Security Bill: When Santa Claus turns vampire
Arvind P Datar 30 July 2013

Even if corrupt officials and politicians siphon off 20% of estimated Rs6.82 lakh crore of the likely expenditure of the Food Security Bill, they stand to gain Rs1.36 lakh crore in three years. What was the emergency that required an ordinance for this?

With each coming election, every political party revels in playing Santa Claus. With nothing to show by way of good governance, the only way to win elections is to dole out increasingly expensive gifts or promise grandiose welfare schemes. The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) won the 2009 election by promising a Rs52,000 crore loan waiver scheme (and which eventually cost Rs71,680 crore). With the economy in terrible shape and widespread disenchantment, the UPA has now announced, by way of an ordinance, the mother of all welfare schemes: Sonia Gandhi and her advisory commission’s brainchild of national food security. The Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices of the Ministry of Agriculture has prepared a detailed “Discussion Paper 2” and page 33 gives an estimate of what this will cost the nation – hold your breath – Rs6.82 lakh crore over a three year period!


After failing to pass the Food Security Bill through Parliament, the Union Cabinet promulgated this Ordinance a few weeks before the monsoon session was to commence. This is a clear constitutional impropriety. The power to promulgate ordinances is vested with the President and Governors under Articles 123 and 213 of the Constitution and is based on similar powers that the Governor-General of India and the Governors of provinces had before independence. In a heated debate on 23 May 1949, several members of the Constituent Assembly expressed fears of a misuse of this power. Dr BR Abukir informed the members that this extraordinary power was necessary because the “framework for passing law in the ordinary process does not exist”. In the end, the members accepted that this extraordinary power was a necessary evil to be used in extraordinary situations and not perverted to serve political ends. As has happened several times in the past, our politicians have done exactly what the founding fathers did not expect them to do.


The National Food Security Ordinance, 2013 is a complex piece of legislation that has 44 sections and three schedules. Section 3 guarantees every person belonging to a “priority household” five kilogram of food grains per month at a subsidized price for the next three years. Households covered under the “Antyodaya Anna Yojana” are entitled to 35 kg of subsidized food grains for the same period. Schedule I prescribes the subsidized prices of rice, wheat and cereals at Rs3, Rs2 and Re1 per kilo, respectively. Section 4 provides for free meals to every pregnant woman and lactating mother to meet “prescribed nutritional standards” during pregnancy and six months after childbirth plus a maternity cash benefit of Rs6,000.


Section 8 provides that the non-supply of foodgrains will be compensated by a food security allowance by the State Governments! The Bill casts onerous responsibilities on local authorities and State Governments. For example, each State has to create a Grievance Redressal Mechanism, a State Food Commission and provide sufficient and scientific storage facilities at the State, District and Block levels. The Discussion paper 2 points out that several State Governments will suffer considerably with this Bill. This certainly merited detailed discussion in Parliament and before a Select Committee. It would have been even better to have first launched this scheme on an experimental basis in a few States and then drafted the bill on the basis of lessons learnt.


What was the emergency that required this ordinance? If the hunger of millions of Indians has suddenly caused a pang of pain to our politicians, the primary step was to plug the horrendous leakage in our Public Distribution System (PDS). As such large-scale plunder is possible only with political patronage, it is not surprising that very little has been done to check this loot in most States. Section 29 of the Ordinance provides for monitoring by the same Vigilance Committees at the State, District, Block and fair price shop levels that monitor the PDS .In simple English, nothing will be done and all the malpractices will continue. Even if corrupt officials and politicians siphon off 20% of estimated Rs6.82 lakh crore of the likely expenditure, they stand to gain Rs1.36 lakh crore in three years.


The gargantuan amounts that will be spent on Food Security and other schemes will necessarily reduce the amounts available for improving our infrastructure, education and, equally important, our defence sector. Our global power and influence depends on our economic strength. India is slowly and steadily becoming a sick economy that will find it increasingly difficult to meet the inevitable external and internal shocks. We began 2013 with the country’s economy in a critical state. Not a single bold decision has been taken to take the country on the path of economic recovery. The Food Security Bill may well be the tipping point in our nation’s future and make economic recovery extremely difficult if not impossible. Philanthropy without productivity, welfare without wealth and charity without capital will guarantee the bankruptcy of any nation.


In fine, our political leaders are not like the benevolent, bearded man who brings gifts for children each Christmas. They are vampires masquerading as Santa Claus. They feed on the nation’s resources to win election after election. It does not occur to them that, in the not too distant future, there will be no blood left to suck. What will the vampires then do? Lord Macaulay pointed out that, in the fifth century, the Roman Empire was fearlessly plundered and laid waste by the barbarian Huns and Vandals, who came from without. India faces the tragedy of being plundered and laid waste in the 21st century by elected representatives from within.


(Arvind P Datar is a Senior Advocate of the Madras High Court and also practices in the Supreme Court. He has authored several important books on law and taxation.)

9 years ago
Securing-protecting the food grains should have been the top priority.

India needs several highest quality storage facility to store and preserve food grains.

We have no shortage of rogue elements in our nation, who will find any ways and means of swallowing money.
9 years ago
There is an old saying, "How did you go bankrupt?" And the answer is, "Gradually, and then suddenly."
Shashikant Koppikar
9 years ago
To a layman like me, Could someone explain the need to cover 67% of population with the food security ordinance, when govt tom toms the poverty reduction to an unprecedented 22%?
Dr Paresh Vaidya
Replied to Shashikant Koppikar comment 9 years ago
That was to avoid bickering over 'who is poor'. As that could not be defined, they decided to give cheap grin to ALL except some very special people - those ( 100 - 67 =) 33%, may be those paying Income Tax or whatever criteria. It is basically to start the scheme than fight for details.
Subhas Mallik
9 years ago
The issues highlighted by Adv. Datar on the infamous Food security bill should ring the alarm bell in the mind of all right thinking people in this country. We must find ways and means to frustrate this sinister move by the most corrupt and mischievous political dispensation of UPA and prevent them from plundering of nation by their brazen acts of self service. Jago India, Jago. S.mallik.
Subrmaniam Krishnan
9 years ago
Mr Arvind Datar is quite correct. All the parties only talk and never really work to make food available at real affordable prices for the people. Subsidy only makes the middle order rich .First any thought of subsidising should be erased . The politicians elected by all of us think only of themselves. Election time they think they will reach the poor but as he says where is the economic recovery plans ? The biggest joke is that the Central Government grants such schemes and asks the state Governments to monitor. And the State Governments have only some guys who have their vested interests. that travels back to the top again. We need good administrators with good field level work. Quick fix plans always land up in trouble. No Government plans properly to promote agriculture and market the produce with a good set up that helps both the farmers and the buyers. This food security bill will only mean more insecurity for the nation.
9 years ago
This has been so since 1947. Apart from applying the resources of the State exclusively to the personal power,pomp, pleasure and pelf of India's ruling scum,we have proved Sir Winston Churchill to be a clairvoyant sans pareil. But, who will bell the cat? India's tyrants resort to bullets,lies and abusing the laws and courts far more readily than the British to keep what is theirs from the serfs of India.
S K Gupta
9 years ago
After reading all this I understand why Mr. Amartya Sen is so concerned about this bill? Probably he is not reading MoneyLife we should send him a copy.... Gratis. Economician are misers I belief, they might not subscribe.
9 years ago
Let us now await ,what happens to this ordinance after expiry of 6 months, when it must be replaced by a duly enacted law in Parliament. By this gimicky 'Moon' and bribe , Congress party feels this gamble may win them majority seats in parliament ;irrespective of what is happening in the country, Sky rocketing prices , high inflation, rupee value going in pits, billions of rupees lost in political scams SCAMS , worst law and order situation etc.etc. We pray , God save the country.
Anil Agashe
9 years ago
If this is the case then all the political parties will want this bill to be passed. Will any party dare to oppose and defeat the bill on the floor of the house and make the ordinance redundant? Highly unlikely. They will move amendments at the most and a compromise will be hammered out.
If Chattisgarh model is good is there any evidence of money being siphoned off there?
I am also not convinced that 67% of the population will actually avail of this scheme. Will the grain be available. The implementation is with states really.
Thomas Kuruvilla
9 years ago
I agree with the author on most points. The Food Security Ordinance should have been introduced after a thorough discussion of the financial consequences & surely after plugging the loopholes in the PDS. It is also unclear why 67% of the population should be included. Such welfare schemes should only be for those who are below the poverty line. But I disagree with the author on the role played by the opposition parties. They disrupted parliament & did not allow any discussions to take place towards the end of the last parliamentary session. The Govt. in that case had little option but to pass an ordinance.
9 years ago
Why crib about the ordinary on Food Security Bill? Why not question the leading Opposition (NDA) in the Parliament who did not allow it to function at all. This is not the way expecting the government to work. Had the Opposition allowed a discussion in the Parliament there were full chances of removing the irritants. The Opposition in the last about 10 years as just worked for the sake of Opposition - not to let the government function democratically. It is necessary the people of India consider the parties that constitute the leading Opposition today are bolted out in the coming elections so that there could be a functional democracy in place.
Dayananda Kamath k
Replied to gcmbinty comment 9 years ago
it is not nda's fault but of congress everytime just before the parliament session they bring some contravercial issue may be preplanned. so that opposition will be forced to block parliament.till last date congress will not relent and get time to blackmail the outside supporters and then they will create a situation through paid media that opposition is not allowing functioning of parliament and wasting public money. and paliament functions for a few days and the laws which will destroy economy and public funds will be passed without discussion. this is indian democracy.
Replied to gcmbinty comment 9 years ago
what about all the scams undertaken by congress? are you ok with that? the bill could have been bought in monsoon session which was due anyway or special session could have been convened. please do not try to cover the misdeeds of the present government. dvn
9 years ago
The average Indian is corrupt. Most have personally paid bribe and/or received bribe or their family or agents did on their behalf. Any development effort or any scheme for good of the population, will have some leakage. Congress, BJP, Samajwadi, BSP, AIDMK, DMK , all have major corruption taints. Gujarat solved power problem with tainted deal with Adani and refused to have a Lokayuct. NOIDA developed with benifits to BSP, national power situation improved with coal scam benefiting BJP, Congress, BJD etc. Similarly, the poor will benifit from Food Security Bill and all parties in power at centre and states, will have their corruption share. Unless Indians change in attitudes, accept that corruption is the incentive for development drives. So accept the food security bill.
9 years ago
Terrific piece and a sad commentary on the state of affairs of the country. I see no option but ordinary middle class people getting on to the streets and protest as is happening in Brazil and Egypt.
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