The UPA Government is all set to introduce the Food Security Bill, a law that promises to make the right to food a legal right. However, food activists involved in conceiving and drafting the bill, especially at the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC), say the government version of the bill is a much diluted one.
"This is a minimalist version of the bill that the government has prepared," said Harsh Mander, Member, NAC.
Activists like Mander and Professor Jean Dreze point out important differences between the government's version and what the NAC had suggested.
- While the NAC has suggested four kilograms of foodgrain per person each month, the government has reduced it to three kilograms.
- The NAC's draft covers 90 per cent of rural households, but the government has brought it down to 75 per cent.
- The maternity benefit of Rs 1000 per month for six months to fight malnutrition suggested by the NAC has been completely dropped by the government.
- The government has proposed a National Food Commission but with no powers to penalise erring officials, in place of the NAC's independent grievance redressal and monitoring mechanism in every district.
The government says it can always work on improving the law once it gets off the ground, but first it's important to build capacities like storage space.
"The government is taking steps to create new additional coverage storage capacity of more than 152 lakh metric tonnes across 19 states," said K V Thomas, Food Minister.
The Congress insists there is no dilution of the NAC proposal. "The government and the NAC are working together," said Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Spokesperson of Congress.
Congress sources argue that it is important to have the law first. If shortcomings are observed while implementing the law, they can always be worked upon.