India’s union and consumer affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan announced that the National Food Security Act (NFSA) will be fully implemented across India in July. This will complete a process that started in 2013 when the national parliament adopted the act. Currently, 33 States UTs have implemented the act with Tamil Nadu, Nagaland and Kerala expected to do so over the next month. These states have been delayed in the adoption of NFSA for a number of reason. Progress on implementing the NFSA across States in India has been steady in 2016 with eight States implementing the act since January.
The goal of the Act is to provide food security to all Indian citizens. The act has a number of major provisions with the central component providing the beneficiaries of India’s Public Distribution System (PDS), which represents around two thirds of India’s population, with an entitlement of 5 kilograms per month of subsidized food grains. Numerous actors have described the Act as a shift from a welfare approach to a rights based approach where eligible beneficiaries have a legal right to receive subsidized food grains. Other key features include free daily meals for children and free daily meals and a maternity benefit for pregnant women. The Act also provides measures for grievance and redressal for consumers. The estimated total cost of implementing the act is around 1.25 trillion rupees ($22 billion).
Previously the Minister had stated that implementation of the act would be completed by all States by April 2016. At present there are 72 crore beneficiaries that will get subsidised foodgrains under NFSA. However, various reasons have delayed the implementation of the act in some States. For instance the delay in Nagaland was centred on a disagreement between the State and National Government over who should finance wheat and rice transport costs.
The amendments in the NFSA act will introduce transparency in the PDS operations that will lead to digitization of NFSA ration cards, online allocation of the food grains, computerisation of supply chain of food grains, an online grievance redressal facility, among other changes. There also has been new addition of storage capacity of 133.47 LMT created in Public Private Partnership (PPP). The road map of new modern storage facilities of FCI in the form of steel silos is also in place in the upcoming four years.
A survey of 3600 households across 6 States (Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar and Jharkand) that were among the first adopters of the NFSA investigates the impact and effectiveness of the NFSA. Early results from this survey, in June 2016, find that implementing the NFSA in four out of the six States (Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal) has improved the PDS and the States capacity to combat undernutrition. For instance, the survey finds that the number of households with a ration card after implementation of the NFSA increased significantly (from 58 percent to 85 percent on average).
A number of criticisms and challenges have been associated with the implementation of the NFSA. Multiple actors have highlighted that ration cards haven’t been distributed to everyone eligible and that there are a large number of bogus ration card holders. The Controller and Auditor General of India (CAG) stated in its first audit report on the NFSA that States were largely unprepared to handle the logistics of allocating and storing food grains. Another significant criticism has highlighted that the distribution of grains has fallen short of expectations through the misallocation of grains and the allocation of grains of poor quality.
By Bas Paris