IMPORTANT others argued that agricultural production, resource and capacity

IMPORTANT
DEBATES

 

For a
country which ranks 100 among 119 countries in the latest Global Hunger Index
rankings, the government’s resolve to have a legally-binding legislation on
food security certainly provided a historic opportunity. But, contrary to
expectations, it was criticized by many sections of the media and experts.
According to some the bill had a fundamental flaw, while some others explained
why it will not work.

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Several
points of contention have been raised by the experts related to the scope of
the act which includes:

 

Level
of coverage

The level
of coverage debate involves

 

–  Coverage in terms of issues or
areas
–  In terms of coverage of people
(Universal or targeted)

 

One
argument is should the act cover the broad set of issues that relate to food
security, including land reform, agricultural policy etc. or should the act be
limited to concrete food entitlements- The enactment of the law is also debated
with diverse views on inclusion and exclusion of beneficiaries and provisioning
of commodities. Given the problems with identifying the poor and the large
errors in existing BPL lists, there was a strong case presented for universal
coverage. Those who support this say that this is possible since we have a
procurement of over 200 Million Tonnes of wheat and rice, and, the Central
Pool, intended for buffer capacity has more than twice the buffer norms. On the
other hand, others argued that agricultural production, resource and capacity
constraints might initially call for some form of targeting. The draft bill has
received some support on the grounds that creating a universal right to food
will create too much of a burden on the exchequer, and that the production is
insufficient to meet the requirement that will be created.

 

Level
of Poverty

It is
complex to determine the number of poor in this country. Four separate surveys
and commissions, all sponsored by the Central Government have estimated figures
varying from a modest 27.5% (Planning Commission) to a high of 77% (Arjun
Sengupta Committee).

 

Level
of sustainability

The level
of sustainability debate concern with the issue of

 

  Environmental issues
  Ground water utilisation

 

The World
Development Report 2008-Agriculture for Development, which has been brought out
by the World Bank mentions that India presently faces the problem of depleting
ground water level that makes agriculture unsustainable and poses risk to
environment. If rice is one of the food grains that would be supplied when the
Food Security Act comes into being, then more and more farmers would go for
cultivation of rice. According to experts, a minimum support prices (MSP) for
rice increase the financial attractiveness of rice relative to less water-intensive
crops, which makes depletion of ground water table.

 

Crisis
in the Agriculture Sector

The crisis
in agriculture has been manifest in the growing incidence of farmers taking
their own lives. At least 10,000 farmers have committed suicide each year over
the last decade because of their inability of repay loans taken at usurious
rates of interest from local moneylenders.

Overall,
the agriculture sector is mired with numerous problems such as low purchasing
power of India’s poor, low rise in farm productivity, unremunerative prices for
cultivators, poor food storage facilities resulting in high levels of wastage,
fragmentation of land holdings, fall in public investments in rural areas,
especially in irrigation facilities, volatile monsoon, inefficient machinery,
role of the black marketers, food inflation and so on.

 

Policy
differences

There were
considerable debates within the government even at the drafting stage of the
bill. A working group of the Council will redraft the bill that was earlier
prepared by the food ministry. The Council also wants to do away with the Below
Poverty Line (BPL) criteria for allotting cheaper food grains, which was a key
proposal in the earlier food bill.

Needless to
say, governments delay in tabling the bill in the parliament or the oppositions
criticisms on the many dimensions of the bill is one of the major roadblock in
the implementation of the bill.