Food Bill overlooking genuine needs of people: Rights groups
New Delhi: Terming the recommendations of a the Standing Committee on the Food Security Bill as "eyewash", a number of rights groups today said the proposed law should not be tabled in the Budget session of Parliament without incorporating their key demands.
At a press conference, members of the 'Right to Food Campaign' accused the Standing Committee of undermining the broad "goal" of the proposed legislation and slammed the government for not addressing their demands seriously.
The 'Right to Food Campaign' is a conglomerate of various peasant and human rights associations and NGOs which have been demanding a comprehensive Right to Food legislation.
The Food Security Bill aims to give legal rights over subsidised foodgrains to two-third of the country's population.
According to the recommendation of the Parliamentary panel, all the beneficiaries, without categorising them as priority and general households, should be given 5 kg of wheat and rice per month at a uniform rate of Rs 2 and Rs 3 per kg, respectively, under the proposed Food Bill.
The Centre had proposed 7 kg foodgrains per person to priority households at cheaper rate and 3kg to general household at half of the support price.
If the Parliamentary panel's recommendations are accepted, it will benefit the general population in both price and quantity, while BPL members could get lesser quota than what was proposed in the original Bill.
The activists slammed the parliamentary panel for not making recommendations to extend any legal guarantee for providing pulses, oil and sugar in the public distribution system.
"Absence of legal guarantees to pulses, oil, sugar etc will fail to ensure good nutrition for all as the prohibitive prices of these food items would prevent a large proportion of Indian population from accessing them," public health activist Mira Shiva said.
"Food security is not only a supply related issue. Instead of serving only as a means of providing just 5-7 kilograms of food grains to the poor, the act should aim at evolving a holistic system by involving the entire farming communities. It should aim at saving our rural economy from corporates' interests," Vinod Raina of Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti said.
Members of the 'Right to Food Campaign' also demanded legal guarantee in the bill for decentralised procurement of food grains, greater investment in agriculture, easy access to credit for farmers, protection against crop failures and remunerative Minimum Support Price (MSP).
The organisation also criticised the Agriculture Ministry's views that Genetically Modified (GM) crops and their field trials are essential for India's food security.
The groups slammed the government affadavit on the issue in the Supreme Court favouring GM food saying it was against the recommendations of the Technical Expert Committee set up by the apex Court on such crops.
" ...The (Agriculture) ministry argued that GM crops and their field trials are needed for India's food security...This stand of the ministry is trivialisation and mockery of the grave situation of hunger and malnutrition...It needs no emphasis that food security also includes food safety," the group said.
Kavita Srivastava, National Secretary of People's Union for Civil Liberties, claimed the Parliamentary panel had kept the entire population of destitutes, homeless, migrants and other vulnerable groups out of the ambit of the proposed legislation.
She alleged that the committee had in its recommendations, refused entitlement to affordable and free nutritious cooked food to such groups through community kitchens.
"These groups have been kept out of sphere of the bill on the trivial grounds of difficult identification of beneficiaries from such groups. This recommendation will lead to a gross violation of the Right to Food of those disadvantaged groups that are unable to cook their own meals", she added.
The activists also demanded that all schemes proposed under the Food Security Bill should be de-linked from the Unique Identification Number (UID).
They criticised the Standing Committee for restricting maternity benefits after first two children to ensure population stabilisation.