New Delhi: India`s food security law has global significance and it can inspire many countries to come up with similar legislation, a UN official said on Thursday.
The Union Cabinet yesterday approved implementation of the food security law through an ordinance to give 67 percent of the population the right to highly subsidised foodgrains. India is home to 25 percent of the world`s hungry poor.
"It (the food law) has global significance," Olivier De Schutter, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, said here. "I believe it is an important movement for the right to food in India. It can inspire many countries to do the same thing."
De Schutter, who met Food Minister KV Thomas today, said other countries have made similar attempts but India`s social welfare programme is the largest in the world because of the sheer size of its population.
Some countries that run social welfare programmes to provide food security may remove or stop them with changes in the government and fiscal conditions, he said.
"What this bill will do is it will protect as a legal right what otherwise are benefits given away as charity by the government. I think it is of great and symbolic significance," the official told reporters after meeting the Food Minister here.
Asked if food inflation would escalate with the procurement of grains by the government, he said, "The debate that the food law will have a huge cost must be put in the right perspective. The law has a fiscal cost and it also has a cost for consumers because taxpayers are financing this programme."
To implement the law, the government will spend Rs 1,25,000 crore every year to supply 62 million tonnes of rice, wheat and coarse cereals.
"But the cost of not treating the hunger is immense and completely underestimated. There is no better investment for the country than to invest in its children," he noted.
The food programme will be implemented through the public distribution system (PDS). The biggest challenge is fixing pilferage in the PDS in states where poverty is more, according to Commission for Agriculture Costs and Prices (CACP) chairman Ashok Gulati.
"The PDS leakage although has reduced significantly but it is still a concern," De Schutter said. "Certainly, they need to pay attention."
De Schutter noted that Chapter 9 of the food security bill has provisions for a grievance redressal mechanism.
"I am particularly interested in how the redressal grievance commission will function and how people should be informed about the new law," he added.
Schutter is preparing a report on world food security and is in India to study the country`s food law.