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India: Comprehensive Food Security Law Can Eradicate Hunger

India: Only a Comprehensive Food Security Law Can Eradicate Hunger In India, Not This Piecemeal Bill

(Hong Kong, May 06, 2013) The Asian Human Rights Commission endorses the following Press Note issued by the Right to Food Campaign. The AHRC urges the government of India to amend the food security bill and accommodate the changes if it is serious about tackling large-scale hunger and malnutrition plaguing the country. Following is the text of the press note

Press Statement Issued by the Right to Food Campaign on the National Food Security Bill on 6th May, 2013 at the Press Club of India, N Delhi

The Right to Food Campaign is deeply concerned at the paradox of hunger and malnutrition preying on millions of people in this country even as FCI godowns continue to overflow with grain. In this light, the campaign is chagrined that the Government's flagship initiative in the form of the National Food Security Bill (NFSB) is yet to be passed. This betrays the inhuman apathy of our rulers and the system to the plight of the hungry and the malnourished dying a slow death. The ruling Congress party had promised a food security bill in its manifesto prior to the 2009 General Elections and this was also announced as one of the priorities of the UPA government in the President's speech on 2nd June 2009. As we come close to the end of the term of the 15th Lok Sabha, the Bill is yet to be discussed in Parliament.

This delay of almost four years in bringing the final version of the Bill into the Parliament only last week, shows the lack of political will on the part of the UPA Government towards ensuring food security for all and in particular pledging a commitment towards actually eliminating hunger and malnutrition. With the Bill repeatedly delayed and the Parliament not allowed to function, both the Government and the Opposition are denying the people of this country the passage of a comprehensive Food Security Law.

Despite all its promises, the revised version of Bill placed on the floor of the Parliament on 2nd May 2013 makes a mockery of food security. It even undermines some of the entitlements ensured by the Supreme Court of India in the right to food case. We earnestly hope that the Parliament conducts business and that all Parties participate actively in debating, discussing and passing a comprehensive Food Security Bill forthwith. However, we would like to point out that current Bill provides extremely limited food entitlements and is nowhere close to providing food security to the people of India that several important parties, including the CPI, CPI (M), BJD, TMC with the exception of the BJP have moved amendments.

According to the campaign the final version of the Bill that has been introduced in Parliament by the Food Minister Mr. KV Thomas needs serious amendments before passage as:

1. It does not specify any time frame for the rolling out of the entitlements in the Bill. 2. It continues with a Targeted PDS, excluding 33 % of the population from accessing the PDS as a right, giving scope to large exclusion errors of the poor in the country as a whole. The improved framework of single pricing in the present bill over the dual pricing under the existing APL-BPL system is undermined by the exclusion of a third of the country. 3. While the ICMR norms recommend that an adult requires 14kgs of food grains per month and children 7kgs; the Bill provides for reduced entitlements to 5kgs per person per month, thus ensuring only 166 gms of cereal per person per day. 4. The Bill provides only for cereals with no entitlements to basic food necessities such as pulses and edible oil required to combat malnutrition. 5. The Bill continues to allow for the entry of private contractors and commercial interests in the supply of food in the ICDS, especially by insisting on specific norms related to Food Safety Acts and micronutrient norms (Note in Schedule 2). 6. This bill is still ambiguous regarding maternal entitlements to all women, by continuing with the conditionality in the scheme of two child norm, which will penalise children of higher order as well as deny the mother of her basic rights. 7. The Bill does not have a strong grievance redress mechanism. For the Bill to be effective there needs to be in place a strong, decentralized and independent grievance redress mechanism that includes district level grievance redress officers with powers to impose penalties on erring officials. 8. The Bill does not provide any agriculture and production-related entitlements for farmers in spite of the fact that more than 60% of the people in this country are dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods. A revived and vibrant agriculture sector forms the backbone of food security.

The Right to Food Campaign has been consistently demanding a comprehensive food security law that incentivises agriculture production, provisions for local procurement and local storage along with a decentralised and deprivatised universal PDS; along with special entitlements for children, mothers, aged, disabled, widows, migrants and destitute including universalised ICDS; monthly pensions, community kitchens and destitute feeding programmes; effective measures for grievance redress, transparency and accountability and safeguards against commercial interference including GMs in any of the food/nutrition related schemes and against the introduction of cash transfers in place of PDS.

We appeal to the Parliament to discuss the NFSB; bring in suitable amendments to strengthen the Bill (as given above) and pass a comprehensive food security Bill that includes the above provisions. Three major Opposition Parties (CPM, CPI and BJD) have already put in amendments asking for removal of targeting in the PDS. This must not be delayed any further.

The National Food Security Bill is a crucial opportunity to end hunger and malnutrition in India and we hope that this will not be missed. The Right to Food Campaign will continue to protest against a Bill that is so piecemeal in its approach and mobilise for a comprehensive food security bill.

We are, Kavita Srivastava on behalf of the Steering Committee of the Right to Food Campaign

Annie Raja (National Federation for Indian Women), Anuradha Talwar and Gautam Modi (New Trade Union Initiative), Arun Gupta and Radha Holla (Breast Feeding Promotion Network of India), Arundhati Dhuru and Ulka Mahajan (National Alliance of People’s Movements), Asha Mishra and Vinod Raina (Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti), Aruna Roy, Anjali Bharadwaj and Nikhil Dey (National Campaign for People's Right to Information), Ashok Bharti (National Conference of Dalit Organizations), Colin Gonsalves (Human Rights Law Network), G V Ramanjaneyulu (Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture), Kavita Srivastava and Binayak Sen (People’s Union for Civil Liberties), Lali Dhakar, Sarawasti Singh, Shilpa Dey and Radha Raghwal (National Forum for Single Women’s Rights), Mira Shiva (Jan Swasthya Abhiyan), Paul Divakar and Asha Kowtal (National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights), Prahlad Ray and Anand Malakar (Rashtriya Viklang Manch), Subhash Bhatnagar (National Campaign Committee for Unorganized Sector workers)

Veena Shatrugna, M Kodandram and Rama Melkote (Andhra Pradesh), Saito Basumaatary and Sunil Kaul (Assam), Rupesh (Bihar), Gangabhai and Sameer Garg (Chhattisgarh), Pushpa, Dharmender, Ramendra, Yogesh, Vimla and Sarita (Delhi), Sejal Dand and Sumitra Thakkar (Gujarat), Abhay Kumar and Clifton (Karnataka), Balram, Gurjeet Singh and James Herenj (Jharkhand), Sachin Jain (Madhya Pradesh), Mukta Srivastava and Suresh Sawant (Maharashtra), Tarun Bharatiya (Meghalaya), Chingmak Chang (Nagaland) Bidyut Mohanty and Raj Kishore Mishra, Vidhya Das, Manas Ranjan (Orissa), Ashok Khandelwal, Bhanwar Singh and Vijay Lakshmi (Rajasthan), V Suresh (Tamil Nadu), Bindu Singh (Uttar Pradesh), Fr. Jothi SJ and Mr. Saradindu Biswas (West Bengal)

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

ENDS

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