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COMMENTARY

Right to Food reduced it to 75%. Further, while the NAC


proposed 4 kgs per head for those in the
general category, the governments bill
reduces it to 3 kgs per head. What is even
right to food campaign more dangerous is that by specifying that
the division between priority and gen-

A
A critique of the draft food s you are aware, the Empowered eral categories will be based on poverty
security bill, and a brief outline Group of Ministers (EGoM) has ratios, the bill has paved the way for the
recently approved the Department coverage of priority groups to shrink over
of what any such bill must, at the
of Food and Consumer Affairs draft of the time. Also, the provision of foodgrains to
very least, incorporate. National Food Security Bill (NFSB) and the the general category at half the minimum
government claims that it is now ready to support price (MSP) will mean that people
be placed before the cabinet. This draft bill in this category will have to pay prices
makes a complete mockery of the idea of which are much higher than the present
food security for all and dilutes even existing BPL prices and APL prices in the long run.
entitlements obtained through the Supreme
Court. It was expected from the aam admi Defend PDS
United Progressive Alliance sarkar that it The Right to Food Campaign strongly op-
will increase investment in the schemes poses the dismantling of the public distri-
related to food security, in order to reduce bution system (PDS) and its replacement
the unacceptably high rates of malnutrition with cash transfers. The draft bill not only
and hunger in India. Instead what we get gives the government unlimited powers to
is a draft which minimises governments provide a food security allowance in cash
obligations, restricts peoples entitlements in lieu of PDS entitlements, it also makes
and is devoid of any accountability. The it mandatory (under the Provisions for
bill interprets food security only as distri- Advancing Food Security) for the govern-
bution of cereals and cooked meals and is ment to strive for... introducing (the)
completely silent on pulses, millets and scheme of cash transfers in lieu of entitle-
oil. As in the earlier EGoM draft of March ments. These provisions are opening the
2010, there is no commitment towards door to a wholesale replacement of the PDS
This is an open letter to Prime Minister nutritional security or to see production, with cash transfers, without any safeguards.
Manmohan Singh and his council of ministers. procurement (including local procure- As argued in a recent letter addressed to
Kavita Srivastava, Steering Group, Right to ment), storage and distribution as an inte- you by a group of students and research
Food Campaign, New Delhi; Anjali Bhardwaj, grated process in order to address issues scholars (EPW, 23 July 2011), based on a re-
Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey (National Campaign of food and nutritional security. cent survey, this would be very dangerous.
for Peoples Right to Information); Annie Raja
We reject this farce of a bill and demand In this respect, the draft bill is an unprece-
(National Federation for Indian Women);
Anuradha Talwar, Gautam Modi and Madhuri that the government sincerely acts towards dented attack on food security.
Krishnaswamy (New Trade Union Initiative); alleviating hunger and malnutrition in It is our belief that the introduction of
Arun Gupta and Radha Holla (Breast Feeding the country. cash transfers in place of the PDS will not
Promotion Network of India); Arundhati Dhuru just affect household food security but
and Ulka Mahajan (National Alliance of Peoples Whittling Down Coverage also affect production, procurement and
Movements); Asha Mishra and Vinod Raina
(Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti); Ashok Bharti In spite of overwhelming evidence show- storage systems. Those affected the most
(National Confederation of Dalit Organisations); ing the failure of the below-the-poverty- will be the farmers since the government
Colin Gonsalves (Human Rights Law Network); line (BPL) approach, the draft bill contin- will not procure grain as it will not need
G V Ramanjaneyulu (Alliance for Sustainable ues to make a differentiation between to run the PDS shops. The farmers will
and Holistic Agriculture); Binayak Sen
those above and below the poverty line. not get their MSP which is currently their
(Peoples Union for Civil Liberties); Lali Dhakar,
Sarawasti Singh, Shilpa Dey and Radha The poverty line itself is too low and does biggest incentive to grow cereals. They
Raghwal (National Forum for Single Womens not represent the extent of hunger in the will also be left to the market to sell their
Rights); Mira Shiva and Vandana Prasad (Jan country. The problems related to identi grains, which they may have to do at low
Swasthya Abhiyan); Paul Divakar and Asha fication and exclusion errors are well prices. The Food Corporation of India
Kowtal (National Campaign for Dalit Human
known. The draft bill not only links the (FCI) godowns will not be required and
Rights); Prahlad Ray and Anand Malakar
(Rashtriya Viklang Manch); Subhash Bhatnagar entitlements to the poverty ratios, but also the FCI, in the long run, will be left as a
(National Campaign Committee for Unorganised further dilutes what was even suggested completely skeletal system. This will lead
Sector workers); Jean Drze and Vidya Bhushan by the National Advisory Council (NAC). to the end of the nations food security.
Rawat (Former Support group to the Campaign) While the NAC proposed 90% coverage of The Right to Food Campaign appre-
and representatives of all state campaigns.
the rural population, the government has hends that the dismantling of the PDS is
Economic & Political Weekly EPW August 13, 2011 vol xlvI no 33 21
COMMENTARY

being done deliberately to pave the way bringing in serving officers. This defeats the majority of small, dry land farmers of
for the entry of organised retail into the the purpose of a system of checks and the country who are bearing the brunt of
country. Giving cash without ensuring balances, where the implementation and the agrarian crisis and so far have been de-
proper food availability is putting people monitoring were to be carried out by sepa- nied public procurement support; (b) stor-
at the mercy of food retailer sharks and rate agencies. age facilities at every block; (c) creation of
cartels. We see the replacement of food The draft also gives full powers to the procurement-distribution zones with distri-
grains with cash in conjunction with the central government, including powers to bution of grain being from that procured
decision of your government to raise the modify or withdraw most entitlements and within the zone, except in cases of shortfall,
foreign direct investment limit for inter- to specify the sharing of costs with state for which grain can be acquired from
national capital in the retail business. This governments, for instance in Integrated neighbouring zones. This system of local-
could lead to a bigger retail corruption Child Development Services (ICDS) and mid- ised procurement, storage and distribution
than the supposed leakages in the PDS, day meal scheme which are entitlements will not only boost production across the
apart from putting farmers at risk. under Sections 4, 5 and 6 of the bill; thus country, help track corruption and provide
The draft directs the government to strive putting the guarantee of food security at consumers with timely availability of
for leveraging Aadhaar for unique identi- the mercy of the government and bypass- (locally preferred) grains, but will also
fication which the Campaign is opposed ing the Parliament. substantially reduce the current high
to, as it will impinge on the civil liberties The entire bill in fact reveals the govern- transportation costs.
of the countrys residents and is a means ments true objectives of limiting expendi- Lack of funds cannot be an excuse when
for tracking and surveillance. Incidentally, ture, denying responsibility and destroy- the government is forgoing revenue worth
the UID is being implemented in states with- ing existing systems as well. Although the Rs 5 lakh crore a year by giving tax breaks
out even being passed by the Parliament. government claims that this bill is based on to the corporate sector and income taxpay-
the NACs draft, it does complete injustice ers, and through excise, customs and sales
Many Omissions to even the already diluted draft that was tax reduction, but is not willing to spend
The draft is also extremely disappointing prepared by the NAC. even one-fifth of that amount to ensure the
with respect to provisions related to chil- The need of the hour is to strengthen the countrys food security.
dren, women and excluded groups. Ma- PDS through universalisation and reforms The governments neglect of agriculture
ternity benefits of Rs 1,000 per month for to ensure minimum leakages and efficient has led to an agrarian crisis with lakhs of
six months, an essential recommendation distribution. This has to be coupled with distressed farmers committing suicide.
of the Campaign and the NAC has been expanded and decentralised procurement. Food security cannot be achieved without
withdrawn. Key provisions for malnour- There is a need for radical restructuring of addressing the decline in the agriculture
ished children, out-of-school children, procurement, storage and distribution sys- sector. Now with more than 65 million
migrant workers, starvation deaths, des- tems including (a) procurement from all tonnes of foodgrain lying in the FCis go-
titute feeding and community kitchens mandis of all foodgrains at remunerative downs across the country or rotting in the
have been deleted or diluted. The draft prices to provide critical market support to open due to shortage of godowns, the
seems to provide an opening for the re-
placement of cooked meals with ready- Balvant Parekh Centre for General Semantics
to-eat foods, by defining cooked meal
and Other Human Sciences
(C-302, Siddhi Vinayak Complex, Behind Vadodara Railway Station,
as nutritious cooked and ready to eat Faramji Road, Alkapuri, Baroda-7)
meal, thus paving the way for contrac-
tors and corporations. 1. NATIONAL WORKSHOP in Creative Writing and Remembering Rabindranath
Tagore: Exploring Myriad Realms of His Creativity (A Commemoration of
The entire well-crafted grievance re- Tagores 150th Birth Anniversary), 27-29 November 2011, Venue: Balvant Parekh
dressal structure proposed by the NAC, Centre, Baroda
built on the Campaigns proposal, has Faculty: Jayanta Mahapatra and others
Deadline for submitting sample writings and application: 1 October 2011
been junked. This includes the provisions Registration: 25 October 2011
for compensation and penalties and mak-
2. III NATIONAL SEMINAR on The Enigma of Happiness: A Timeless Pursuit,
ing non-bailable and cognisable the crimi- 6-8 January 2012, Venue: Utkal University, Bhubaneswar
nal proceedings for non-compliance. Sim- Faculty: Pascal Bruckner, French philosopher, novelist and author of Perpetual
ilarly, the national and state food security Euphoria: On the Duty to be Happy
Deadline for submission of abstract: 1 November 2011
commissions have been deprived of any Registration: 10 December 2011
real powers; they are just advisory bodies.
3. III NATIONAL SYMPOSIUM on The Culture of Diversity and Disciplinarity
Most of the transparency provisions in the (in collaboration with the Forum on Contemporary Theory), 2-4 February, 2012,
Campaign and NAC draft have been drop Venue: Balvant Parekh Centre, Baroda
ped. Most importantly, the premise of the Keynote speaker: Arjun Appadurai, New York University, USA
Deadline for submission of abstract: 1 December 2011
NAC grievance redressal mechanism was Registration: 1 January 2012
independence and autonomy of the func-
For more details, visit www.balvantparekhcentre.org.in
tionaries. This has been thrown out by
22 August 13, 2011 vol xlvI no 33 EPW Economic & Political Weekly
COMMENTARY

government cannot use the excuse of introduction of other commodities such treatment of severely malnourished children.
unavailability of grains for not universal- as pulses and oil). (5) Clearly defined entitlements for vulner-
ising the PDS. (2) Provisions to incentivise food produc- able groups such as the aged, disabled,
tion and for decentralised procurement widows, migrants and destitutes including
Demands and storage. monthly pensions, community kitchens
If this bill is approved by the cabinet, the (3) Provisions for strengthening the PDS and destitute feeding programmes.
government will be missing an opportunity delivery system based on the experience (6) Effective measures for grievance redress,
to do something about food security in the of many successful initiatives by states such transparency and accountability.
country. We believe that such a bill in fact as Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Himachal (7) Safeguards against commercial inter-
does more damage than good and must be Pradesh, Orissa, etc. ference in any of the food/nutrition relat-
rejected. We reject this version of the NFSB (4) Comprehensive measures for addres ed schemes and against the introduction
and demand that any bill must at the very sing child malnutrition that include of cash transfers in place of PDS.
least have the following: school mid-day meals, universalisation The Right to Food Campaign gives a
(1) Universalisation of PDS entitlements with quality of the ICDS and maternity national call for action to reject the
(along with expansion in quantity and entitlements along with provisions for governments draft food security bill.

Children and the Indian Circus proposed to notify circus as a hazardous


industry. According to them, at least 500
girls are illegally employed in about 50
circuses across India. The instability in
Nisha P R their life due to the nomadic existence
and the lack of formal education are

O
The Indian circus has been n 18 April 2011, the Supreme serious problems associated with their
going through a crisis since Court banned the employment work at the circus. Other issues are
and performance of children cramped spaces, inadequate food, erratic
the environment ministry
below 14 years of age in Indian circuses. sleep timings, poor sanitation, absence of
banned the training and Under Article 21A, the Court ordered the healthcare personnel, high risk factor of
performance of wild animalsin government to issue suitable notifications the acrobatics, paltry remuneration, strict
1991; now with the Supreme prohibiting the employment of children in terms of contract, and above all, the daily
circuses within two months from the date routine in circuses hindering all-round
Court ban on employment
of judgment. The bench also directed the development. However, the rescued chil-
of children in circuses it centre to conduct simultaneous raids in all dren are proposed to be kept in care and
faces a new difficulty.While circus companies to liberate children and protective homes unless their parents are
exploitation, sexual abuse, check if their fundamental rights were willing to take them.
being violated. The petition was filed by
inadequate healthcare and First Animals, Now Children
the non-governmental organisation Bach-
issues of remuneration need to pan Bachao Andolan, which argued that This ruling is certainly a fateful moment
be addressed, it should also be children working in circuses underwent for the Indian circus fraternity, just like
recognised that children have exploitative labour, sexual abuse, bond- the order of the environment ministry
age and servitude: banning the training and performance of
always figured prominently in the
The petition has been filed in public interest wild animals such as bears, monkeys, tigers,
history of physical training and under Article 32 of the Constitution in the lions and panthers two decades ago, on
culture in circuses. The present wake of serious violations and abuse of chil- 2 March 1991. The order, based on the 1960
dren who are forcefully detained in circuses, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, took
circumstances could bring down in many instances, without any access to
away approximately 400 animals from
the edifice of the 140-year old their families under extreme inhuman
conditions. There are instances of sexual circuses, and relocated them to many
Indian circus for good. abuse on a daily basis, physical abuse as well zoos across the country. However, the
as emotional abuse. The children are de- Circus Owners Federation and the Circus
prived of basic needs of food and water. Employees Union filed a petition in the
The petitioners further elaborate that High Court of Kerala challenging the
they had appealed to all the major circus order (Petition OP No 2636, 1999,
company owners to stop trafficking, M A Sasidharan and Others vs Union of
Nisha P R (nichukomal@gmail.com) is pursuing bondage, child labour and other violations India). The key argument of the petition
doctoral research at the Department of History,
of child rights and held campaigns in was that the order threatened the lives of
University of Delhi.
front of many circuses. The petitioners around 40,000 animal trainers/caretakers/
Economic & Political Weekly EPW August 13, 2011 vol xlvI no 33 23