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Tuesday, 16 July, 2013, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Manjushree Naik
In most developed countries, governments consider offering food and social security as two important areas, next only to ensuring fundamental rights.

However, in India, after its Independence about 66 years ago, with a population of 35 crore to feed and more than 90 per cent of it being Below the Poverty Line (BPL), security of any kind did not go beyond rationing of few food items such as wheat, rice, sugar and palm oil and, perhaps, kerosene as a cooking fuel, through Fair Price Shops (FPS).

That too the scheme was a legacy left behind by the British rulers. Interestingly, the British thought of introducing rationing of food after the infamous Bengal famine. The move came with laying down of basic principles of a Public Distribution System (PDS) for India and setting up of Food department in 1942.

Subsequently, upon the recommendations of the Food Grains Policy Committee (1943) and the Food Grains Enquiry Committee (1957) the scheme was expanded in a big way through out the country.

However, the real fillip came in the 80s with introduction of Essential Supplies Programme and formation of ministry of food and civil supplies with two departments - food and civil supplies - working under it. This ensured that the PDS catered to the population that had reached 69 crore and BPL which touched around 50 per cent during this period. The next two decades, the programme was revamped further to ensure it fulfilled growing needs.

But with the dawn of the second decade of 2000s, when the population shot beyond the 100 crore mark with about 40 per cent of it under BPL, the Government felt that the country needed a comprehensive food policy and it was during this time that the draft Food Security Bill came into existence.

For about three years, the Bill was discussed amid strong criticism from the Opposition parties. Finally, few days ago, it made inroads into the country’s governing system as Food Security Ordinance.

While the move is intended to benefit about 75 per cent of the people living in the rural areas and about 50 per cent of the people living in the urban areas, it has created uproar over the timing – just before the Union general elections.  

Further, it is expected to cost the exchequer about Rs 1,25,000 crore annually. As for this fiscal year, it is likely to cost Rs 90,000 crore, which will be supported by an additional Rs 10,000 crore. To begin with, the supply will be only upto 5 kg.

Looking at these figures it is understandable why the ruling party is drawing flak from all quarters. Nevertheless, it can be regarded as the first tiny step towards a huge goal – feeding almost the entire population going forward – after decades of struggle for providing food security. So all concerned need to ensure that the scheme becomes a success and reaches its final goal in a country that has been identified with images of hunger and malnourishment for several decades.
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