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Incumbent political party has termed the Food Security Bill a ‘historic legislation’ and has urged the leaders of party to publicize this new concept and legislation to the masses.
The Food Security Bill had been in the works since 2009 and it has finally received the nod from the cabinet this year. The aim of the Food Security Bill is to increase the public’s accessibility to food.
According to the World Bank, close to 32.7 percent of the population in India lives below the international poverty line of Rp 74 (US$ 1.25) per day, and they cannot afford one square meal in a day. Through this Food Security Bill, passed as an ordinance by the Union Cabinet, the Indian government hopes to feed the poor and ensure that everyone in India can afford proper meals.
The bill aims to provide 5 kg of food grains per month for an individual at subsidized rates. Eligible households will be able to purchase rice for a maximum price of Rs 3 per kg, wheat for Rs 2 per kg, and coarse grain for Rs 1 per kg.
The right to food campaign began when the Rajasthan unit of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties filed a petition in 2001 in the Supreme Court urging the government to utilize the country’s food stocks to eliminate malnutrition and hunger.
There have been numerous discussions between the People’s Union for Civil Liberties and the government of India and one of the outcomes of the discussions is the implementation and execution and mid-day meals for primary school children. What started out as a provision of meals for school children now includes all the people living below the poverty line in India.
It is said that through the Food Security Bill, the government will provide food at subsidized rates to 75 percent of the rural population and 50 percent of the urban population. This is a huge financial burden on the government, given the current account deficit it has accumulated over the years.
The current account deficit hit a record high of 4.8 percent of the gross domestic product in the fiscal year that ended in March. Now, with the additional burden of providing food at subsidized rates to the poor, the government’s expenditure will increase to Rs 1.3 lakh crores per annum.
Another drawback of the Food Security Bill is that it may increase the prices of rice, wheat and grain in the open market. This is because with an increase in the procurement of such large quantities of foods by the government, there will be less quantity in the open market, forcing producers to increase the cost of these items, which will be a burden to those not covered under the Food Security Bill.
Also, one of the challenges that India faces is the lack of proper infrastructure, which will allow the government to transport food to poor populations in urban and rural areas in India.
So, the government will have to invest in the transport systems in the country and improve the connectivity of trains, buses etc. If the government manages to attract foreign companies to India and assigns them transportation projects, the entire country will be able to benefit.
Else, if the government has to enhance the infrastructure on its own, it could be a huge burden on the tax payers. So, the Food Security Bill is a double edged sword.
The government has to come up with proper rules and regulations in related industries to ensure that the public is not burdened with additional taxes and inflation.