Human Rights Diary - April 2013

In its latest form, the National Food Security Bill, 2013 promises to address the extreme irony of an ambitious nation holding mountains of food in storage, while masses of its people are under-nourished or even starving.  The right to food is finally on the threshold of being legislated.  Every step taken to widen the coverage of food security schemes is an advance.  Yet, the empirical truth is that incremental measures at targeting the needy are a poor substitute for a cohesive, rights-based universal system of food entitlements.  There are, no doubt, many positives to the new legislation, such as coverage of up to 75 per cent of eligible priority households in rural areas, the importance given to women as the head of the household for issue of ration cards, inclusion of pregnant and lactating women for free meals (some in government wanted to take away this entitlement from women who bear more than two children but the idea was sensibly dropped), and setting up of State Food Commissions to investigate violations of entitlements.  Under the proposed law, it will be up to the States to frame criteria and choose the priority households for food entitlements, an exercise that will inevitably be accompanied by the well-documented troubles associated with targeting any welfare scheme.  Exclusion of any deserving household is unfair and divisive.  It poses a challenge to States that wish to provide universal access, an issue that is bound to be felt acutely in urban areas attracting tens of thousands of migrant labourers.

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