When I got to know about the plan of the current government to pass the Right to Food Act, I went through a series of feelings. First it was dismay, followed by optimism, further followed by despair. For the first few minutes, I kept wondering why did it take so much time to provide the most basic and fundamental right to the citizens of this country? It is not that we have become self sufficient with respect to food only recently; on the contrary, we as a nation have secured food sufficiency since decades, but still allowed food grains to decay in our godowns, and not let them reach those who have been starving to death! Anyway, considering that it is better late than never, I felt that finally the common man and his poorer cousins were getting more attention from the government, which had been too engrossed in trying to save India Inc. from recession. I felt happy because this particular bill becomes even more pertinent at this point in time as the prices of food grains and cereals in the last one year have risen to such an extent that many items have become nearly out of reach of the common man. Needless to say, nothing much has been done to change much of that, as a result of which the middlemen and hoarders are making obscene margins at the cost of both farmers and the consumers.

Thus, from that perspective, the very concept of the Right to Food Act gives the fundamental right to every citizen to get safe and nutritious food, consistent with an adequate diet, necessary to lead an active and healthy life with dignity! But then, there are many glitches in the draft bill – to begin with, the fact that the quantum of food-grains has been fixed in the draft at 25kg per month, against an earlier Supreme Court directive of 35kg. Along with this, there is a huge gap between the Center and the states with respect to the number of people below the poverty line. The Center has budgeted the bill assuming 6.75 crores people below poverty line, whereas the states have already issued over 10 crore BPL cards. Not to forget, the assumptions for both the states and the Center are far from reality, as the basic paradigm of defining poverty remains questionable in itself in the Indian context! In addition to this, the introduction of the bill also highlights the failure of various government programs which were targeted at giving food security to the underprivileged! A case in point is the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY), which was meant to provide subsidized food to the destitute, primitive tribes, disabled and old. Interestingly the bill is now attempting to scrap AAY and reduce the guarantee of rice to 25kg, which was 35 kgs in the case of the former, making the recipients worse off.     Read More....

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