Food security ordinance: where we stand

Published: Thursday 04 July 2013


Food security ordinance: where we stand
Date: 04 July 2013
The Cabinet on July 3 approved the proposal to promulgate an ordinance on the National Food Security Bill (NFSB) 2011. The NFSB aims to guarantee food and nutritional security by providing certain minimum foodgrains at subsidised rate of Rs 1-3 per kilogram to close to 75 per cent of the rural population and 50 per cent of the urban population. It would also provide cash to beneficiaries in case the state failed to provide food.

However, several challenges remain in the formulation and implementation of this ambitious piece of legislation before it can benefit India’s teeming hungry millions. Down To Earth takes a look at some pressing questions regarding the Food Security Bill and what needs to be done to tackle India’s growing food insecurity
What is the criteria for entitlement
The government calculated the number of beneficiaries on the basis of the current level of production and procurement of food grains. The government seeks to limit entitlement to a maximum 75 per cent of the rural population (including 46 per cent of priority households in rural areas) and 50 per cent of the urban population (including 28 per cent of priority households in urban areas).

The expert committee chaired by C Rangarajan, who is also chairman of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister was constituted to look into suggestions of the National Advisory Council (NAC) on the Food Security Bill. It suggested that the procurement of food grains should not be more than 30 per cent of total production, or else it could distort open market prices.

Period Average procurement (in million ton) % of total production
From 2007-08 to 2010-11 56.99 32.2
From 2000-01 to 2006-07 38.22 24.3
From 2001 to 2011 45.05 27.4
While the average procurement of foodgrain for the period 2001-2011 was around 45 MT, experts believe procurement above 30 per cent of production could distort open market prices

Over the past two years, procurement of food grain increased drastically. The last two years (2010-11 and 2011-12), total grains procurement was 63 MT and 73 MT (MT= million ton) respectively. But experts believe it would be hard to sustain this level of procurement. With this data, it has been estimated that ensuring more than 5 kg per person per month is beyond the realm of feasibility.

(per person per month)
Coverage Total
(in million ton)
Average procurement for last five years
(in million ton)
5 kg 75 per cent rural and 50 per cent urban population 56.8 56.99
7 kg Do 76.3 56.99
11 kg Do 115.3 56.99
An entitlement of five kg of foodgrain per person is the maximum India can afford, given its average procurement over the past five years is almost 57 MT
How will beneficiaries be identified
The identification of priority and general household will be done in accordance with the guidelines for identification to be prescribed by the Central government.

The Planning Commission and the Ministry of Rural Development had announced on October 3, 2011, that eligibility and entitlements will be determined after the Socio-economic and Caste Census (SECC) 2011 survey. The survey is being conducted by the Ministry of Rural Development and the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation at the moment.

The Planning Commission and rural development ministry in consultation with states, experts and civil society organizations will have to arrive at a consensus in methodology for the identification of beneficiaries. An expert committee will be appointed to ensure that this methodology is consistent with the provisions of bill. However, experts believe that there is no scientific method of identifying BPL households. It seems like a hit-and-miss approach.

According to latest information on the SECC, 70 per cent of the survey completed. However, the survey is yet to be completed in the states of West Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Manipur.
Is the food procurement system ready
Implementation of bill would raise the annual procurement level to about 65 million tonnes. The Department of Food and Public Distribution claims that requirement of food grains can be meted out at the current level of procurement if the level of procurement is sustained. The procurement mechanism is not strengthened as there are inadequate rice milling facilities in different states and a decentralised procurement system (DPS) has not been adopted by many. The institutional food credit facilities offered by different banks too are not being leveraged.
How will it help farmers
The Food Security Bill does not mention revitalization of agriculture. Holistic measures need to be taken for increasing agricultural production. Agrarian reform is needed for securing the interests of small and marginal farmers, and investment in agriculture should be increased. There is also a need for prohibition of diversion of land and water from food production. To this end, the Union Ministry of Agriculture has launched the initiative ‘Bringing Green Revolution to Eastern India’.
Tracking India’s hunger data
Feeding the teeming millions in India has always been problematic, but just how big is the problem? As the government prepares to enforce a legislation guaranteeing to every citizen the right to affordable food, the country’s food consumption data underscores the need for such a law, and the enormity of the task at hand.

Global estimates of undernourishment between 1990 and 2012 published in the report ‘The State of Food Security in the World 2012’ rank India much lower than several Asian and African countries on many key food security indicators. The report was prepared by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), an arm of the United Nations that leads international efforts to tackle hunger.

Number of undernourished people
Between 2010 and 2012, India had an estimated 217 million people who were at risk of undernourishment, according to FAO food security indicators. The agency arrived at this figure by applying the estimated prevalence of undernourishment in the country to the total population taken on a three-year average. India accounted for nearly a fourth of the total 868 million in the world who were at the risk of undernourishment by the end of 2012.

One could argue numbers in India are high because of the high population. But it does not justify the fact that the country has a huge number of people staring at the possibility of undernourishment. China, a country more populous than India, still fares better on this point.

The data further shows the number of people at the risk of undernourishment in India is declining at a rate much lower than that of the world and Asia as a whole, indicating the country might be lagging behind in its efforts to ensure food security.

Number of people in millions. Take mouse over graph for more details

Prevalence of food inadequacy
The FAO describes prevalence of food inadequacy as the percentage of a country’s population at risk of not covering the food requirements associated with normal physical activity. This includes even those people who are not chronically undernourished but are likely having insufficient food.

Between 2010 and 2012, 27.50 per cent of India’s population fell in this category according to the food security estimates. This is significantly higher than the world average of 19.10 per cent, and the Asia average of 21.90 per cent. At 18.9 per cent, China once again fares better.

The data also shows that between 1990 and 2012, India could not stabilize the rate of decline of the prevalence of food inadequacy. In contrast, the corresponding figure for Asia and the world has been declining at a steady pace.

Percentage of total population. Take mouse over graph for more details

Depth of food deficit
The FAO describes this calculation as the number of calories needed to lift the undernourished from their status with everything else being constant. Between 1990 and 1992, India needed to provide 176 calories more per person per day to cover up the food deficit. The corresponding figure for 2010 to 2012 is 125 calories.

During the same time, China has managed to reduce this figure by nearly half, from 156 calories to 76 calories. This despite the fact it has been the most populous country in the world during this time.

Additional calories required per person a day. Take mouse over graph for more details


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