Biraj Patnaik, the principal adviser to the Supreme Court’s food commissioner, said the Food Security Bill represents a moment of “transformative potential” for India, which until recently had experienced dramatic economic growth but still is home to millions who are undernourished.
As the Hindustan Times reflects: “The real challenge for Congress is now to get the bill rolled out, a responsibility entrusted with state governments”.
The bill proposes meal entitlement to specific groups, including pregnant women and lactating mothers; children between six months and 14 years; malnourished children; disaster-affected people; the destitute, homeless and starving. The measure allots food grain entitlement for up to 75% of the rural population and up to 50% of people living in urban areas.
A critical question remains: Can India make such an ambitious programme work?
Jean Drèze, a development economist who supports the bill, analyzed the food distribution system in the central state of Chhattisgarh, based on the 2012 Chhattisgarh Food Security Act.
Notable features of the CFSA include: sensible use of technology, including full computerisation of the Public Distribution System; greater transparency – public scrutiny of all records – and strengthened accountability, with Gram Panchayats running ration outlets.
Jean Drèze found it mostly working well, because it was overseen by local community groups that instituted measures such as a text-message alert that tracks grain along the supply chain.
It worked in Chhattisgarh – will it work elsewhere?