Food Security Bill

india food security bill graphicBiraj 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.

A woman ties a sack of subsidised food outside a ration shop in Seoni village, Chhattisgarh

A woman ties a sack of subsidised food outside a ration shop in Seoni village, Chhattisgarh

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?

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