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May 7, 2013

Trinamool Congress puts forward Amendments to the Food Security Bill

Trinamool Congress puts forward Amendments to the Food Security Bill
Trinamool MP Saugata Roy moved 4 Amendments to the Food Security Bill at Lok Sabha. The Amendment no. 90, 91, 147 and 160 has been incorporated in the revised Bill.
Prior to that, Trinamool Mp Dinesh Trivedi spoke at length on the Food Security Bill. The excerpts of his speech is given below –
SHRI DINESH TRIVEDI (BARRACKPUR): Madam Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to speak on this Bill. With your permission, if I am not able to complete my speech, I would like to lay it on the Table of the House.
 At the outset, let me say that this is one of the most important piece of legislation after independence of India. As the world`s second fastest growing economy, India suffers the ignominy of carrying one of the highest burdens of child malnutrition globally. Our hon. Prime Minister has rightly described it as a `national shame`. It is in this context that I feel that the National Food Security Bill is not just crucial but it is imperative. I am, therefore, disappointed to note that such an important piece of legislation has been put on the backburner for so long after the intent to legislate as it was announced almost four years ago by the UPA-2 Government. I have a written speech and I would like to submit this on the Table of the House. This is one of the crucial Bills. It is unfortunate that we cannot debate this Bill.
We should debate this Bill because this will go to the poorest of the poor and this is very important piece of legislation.
With your permission, I would like to lay rest of my written speech on the Table of the House.
My view is that instead of drawing inspiration from the directive principles of our Constitution, the proposed NFSB takes us further away from the vision of the founding principles of our nation.
There are many positive aspects of the NFSB, most importantly, the fact that it introduces a series of entitlements across the lifecycle of almost every citizen in the country under a fairly comprehensive framework. The provisioning of maternity entitlements for all pregnant and nursing mothers in our country is another way of advancing the frontier of maternity rights. Yet, I must add that it falls way short of what is needed to eliminate the scourge of hunger and malnutrition and we are on the cusp of losing yet another opportunity to deal with the inequity and injustice that condemns millions of my fellow Indians to hunger and starvation.
 My reservations about the NFSB in its present shape are summarized.
The gravest injustice that this legislation does is to children`s right to food.
Including just the supplementary nutrition component and not the other five services of the ICDS under the rights framework, is a half-hearted attempt to stall the inclusion of this crucial programme in the NFSB and make it more accountable. I would, therefore, urge that all the other services of the ICDS viz. referrals, immunization, nutrition and health education, pre-school and growth monitoring are also brought into the ambit of the Bill.
The most retrograde aspect of the legislation vis-a-vis children is the facilitation of the backdoor entry of contractors into the ICDS. This is being done by legislating that for each micro-nutrient, 50% of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is met (Schedule 2), the Bill is ensuring that, contrary to current Supreme Court orders (2004,2006 in the PUCL vs. Union of India and Others). It would lead to the further commercialization of children`s nutrition and vested private sector interest taking over the supplementary nutrition programme.
The National Advisory Council (NAC) had detailed chapters in their draft version of the NFSB which was forwarded by the UPA Chairperson to the Government on dealing with the needs of the destitute and most marginalized sections of our country including the urban homeless, people affected by starvation, out of school children etc. through destitute feeding programmes, community kitchens, emergency feeding programmes and so on. I am deeply saddened to note that all of these progressive parts of the NAC draft have been removed from the Bill that has now been listed in Parliament, even though they were included when the NFSB was tabled in December, 2011.
Similarly, the grievance redressal section of the NFSB, as drafted by the NAC has been whittled down and turned toothless by the Ministry of Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution and reduced to a `jobs for the boys` programmes for retired and serving government officials.
Madam, I would now like to dwell on the most shocking aspect of this legislation. The force majeure section (52) of the NFSB 2011 reads:
`This clause provides for Force Majeure. It provides that the Central Government, or as the case may be the State Governments, shall not be liable for any claim by persons belonging to the priority households or general households or other groups entitled under this Act for loss, damage, or compensation; whatsoever, arising out of failure of supply of foodgrains or meals when such failure of supply is due, either directly or indirectly, to Force Majeure conditions, such as, war, flood, drought, fire, cyclone, earthquake or any act of God.`
As you will see the legislation seeks to actively deny those most in need of food assistance, and those who are sure to die if these fundamental entitlements are not made available in case of such emergencies. If you permit me, I would like to draw an analogy here. This clause is akin to a Government stating that it is willing to provide medicines to everyone, expect when they fall ill!
Madam, the legislation seeks to reduce the entitlement of foodgrains of those families who are below the poverty line from the existing entitlement of 35kgs to 25 kgs per household per month. I would like to point out that based on Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) recommendations, a household with two working adults, two children and one old person, on an average requires 50 kgs of foodgrains per month. I would therefore urge that no reduction in quantity is allowed to pass though in the name of legislating the right to food.
India`s agrarian crisis had led to more than a quarter of a million farmers committing suicide since 1996. This is a statistic that the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) has brought out and represents the largest wave of farmer suicides in recorded human history. Yet, the NFSB pays lip service to agriculture. I fail to understand why the Minimum Support Price Mechanism (MSP), which is a statutory guarantee, could not have been affirmed as a legal entitlement in the National Food Security Bill? How can India become food secure if 70% of its people who derive their sustenance from the farm sector remain insecure? If there was an opportunity for the Government to send a positive message to our farmers, it was the NFSB. If the Government had taken on board the various recommendations of the National Farmers Commission, chaired by Dr. M S Swaminathan, and made them integral to the NFSB, it would have led to dramatic change in the agrarian landscape of the country. Yet the Government has not missed a single opportunity to miss an opportunity!
Lastly, Madam, I would like to draw your attention to the Chhattisgarh Food Security Act, 2012 (CFSA) that was passed by the State Assembly and is currently being implemented there. It takes care of most of the concerns that I listed above. I am hopeful that concerns of farmers will also be eventually added to the CFSA. I am hopeful that Parliament will be able to make the necessary amendments to the National Food Security Bill to make it progressive.
Madam, the NFSB is a historic opportunity that India cannot afford to miss. I write in this tone of anguish because I feel strongly that in so far as food security is concerned, we should all be able to rise above our political differences and take a bipartisan approach. India deserves better than what we are proposing to legislate. If we do not rise to the occasion, the political class will once again be letting down the millions of poor and marginalized people who have sent us to Parliament to represent them.