India's New Food Security Bill May Help Hunger Rates

By: Saira Malhotra

India - a country growing by leaps and bounds. A place where one can expect to find malls and luxury high rises sprouting like flowers in a fertile land. A developing country whose people face daily choices of organic or commercially grown, I-Phone or Blackberry, cook at home or eat out. Yet there remains a red flag leaving Gandhi Ji's dream of an India without hunger unfulfilled: Food Insecurity. Last week, NY Times - India Ink, reported on initiatives and amendments that are being implemented nationwide.

Amid parliamentary discussions of anti-corruption legislation and hunger - challenges the country has faced for centuries, a new bill has been introduced to address food insecurity: 'The National Food Security Bill'. The goal is to bring relief to the bellies of 75% of rural India and 50% of urban households, which under the previous system has not been effectively carried out.

In addition to the rice and grain that these communities currently receive, the Bill plans to make the food low-cost to those who are poverty stricken. The Bill redefines who is eligible and how much they are eligible to. Under the previous system, everyone below the poverty line received food subsidies. However, the Food Insecurity Bill, has established 3 categories: priority, general, excluded. The category people fall under would determine the level of subsidy they receive or not.

In the past, it was challenging to ensure that those entitled to the subsidy were actually receiving it. Some argue that loopholes in the system allowed for officials and distributors to siphon off resources along the way. The new Bill plans to address this by accompanying the subsidy with money. In addition, it will also acknowledge women as the household heads in order to increase the probability of the money allocated to families actually being spent on food.

Without a doubt, in a country where malnutrition rates are worse than that of Sub-Saharan Africa and where 50% of the children are below the appropriate weight, something needs to be done and done with the highest sense of urgency.

As India grapples with hunger, many question the effectiveness of this plan. An initiative that will cost the government $3.75 billion and not even provide a long term solution has left many frowning. Even Agricultural Minister, Sharad Pawar, expresses his lack of confidence in the countrys ability to produce enough grain to meet the requirements of the Plan. Furthermore, the goal is to implant this bill in to the current system of pandemonium leaving many economists wondering just how the government plans to pull this off.

Some economists argue that this is a mere publicity stunt to secure votes and in fact provides even more loopholes in an already corrupt system. Some debate that to come up with a plan that is effective and sustainable, the government needs to allocate their resources to better agricultural practices.

Photo: Gates Foundation

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