Parliament's Standing Committee on Food, consumer affairs and public distribution, headed by Congress MP Vilas Muttemwar today submitted it recommendations on the National Food Security Bill to the Speaker. Here are some of its key recommendations:
The committee has recommended that the population to be covered under Targeted Public Distribution System or TPDS in the Bill should be under a single category with uniform entitlements of 5 kg per person per month. Earlier there were many different categories for entitlement, which the committee felt only added to confusion in implementation of the Food security act. And though a number of activists had been demanding that the entitlement per person be worked out to at least 7 kg per person, the committee has decided to put it at 5 kg per person.
The difference, under this report, is that under the present TPDS, every BPL and AAY household gets 35 kg of foodgrains irrespective of the household size. Some members were apprehensive that the shift from household-based entitlement would lead to decrease in the entitlement in case of smaller family size, but the committee felt that households with more members and larger families will be entitled to get more.
As a result, the entitlements proposed in the Bill are on per person basis and not on household basis as it was earlier.
The committee has also recommended that the State Governments may be given the flexibility to extend the coverage beyond the numbers prescribed under the proposed Bill (at least 75 per cent of the rural population and 50 per cent for urban), out of their own resources so as to cover more population, but not less population as envisaged in the proposed Bill.
The committee was disappointed that thus far, only about 68 per cent of the socio-economic caste census has been completed and there is no time frame within which the survey has to be completed. The committee strongly recommended that the work relating to the Socio-Economic Caste Census, 2011 should be expedited and completed without any further delay.
Keeping in view the large scale gaps and inadequacies in the existing banking system, particularly in rural and remote areas, the committee felt that the introduction of cash transfer at this juncture may not be desirable, even though the Bill has provisions of direct cash transfer, food coupons or other schemes to the targeted beneficiaries in lieu of food-grains entitlements.
The committee recommended that the Government ensure that banking infrastructure and accessibility to banking facility be made available in all parts of the country including remote, rural and hilly tribal areas before introducing cash transfer in lieu of food subsidy.
Pregnant women should be given an additional 5 kg of foodgrains per month during pregnancy and till two years after the birth of the child so as to meet her nutritional requirement, both post-delivery and during lactation.
Earlier, under the Food Security Bill, pregnant women were also provided with meals, free of charge during pregnancy and six months after child birth through local anganwadis to meet nutritional standards specified in the Bill.
However, the Committee felt that sufficient anganwadi centres did not exist in all parts of the country, and in many places where they do exist, they don't function efficiently.
The Committee also felt that it is not practical for pregnant women to go to anganwadi centres to get free meals.
The Committee found that the ICDS scheme is not yet ripe to implement the provisions of the Bill. Moreover, the Committee did not find it practical for the children below the age of two years to go to anganwadi centres to get free meals. The Committee, therefore, recommended that children below the age of two years who are entitled to 5 kg of foodgrains under the provisions of the Bill need not be provided free meals as they will be fed by their mothers who have already been recommended additional 5 kg of foodgrains till two years after child birth.
The UPA 2 is banking on this ambitious Bill to drive home the point that the government is serious about the welfare of its masses, and is keen on ending malnutrition. But this is just a stepping stone, and the Bill still has many more hurdles to cross before it reaches its goal.