Firdous Ahmad Ahangar
The Targeted Public Distribution System (erstwhile Public Distribution System) which is the largest food security system in world proposes to be rationalized and streamlined in its pattern of distribution by the implementation of National Food Security Act 2013.
One of the most significant outcomes of this Act is that food is now a legal constitutional right of the citizen of India in abidance to the Article 47 of the constitution and this is why this Act is also known by the name ‘Right to Food’.
Although, we witnessed large hue and cry over the validation of this Act in our state within few weeks of announcement for its implementation by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Late Chief Minister of Jammu Kashmir.
While all political parties outside alliance left no stone unturned to make public mockery of this Act, the Dietician Associations used all their reference resources and statistical calculations to compare Recommended Daily Intake of humans and those of pigeons.
While everyone seemed to be yes-men of campaigners, nobody asked political parties outside the alliance, civil society and other pressure groups why they did not press for public opinion and possible amendment to this Act when it was tabled in our legislative assembly and given concurrence in the year 2011.
Bitter truth is that both our social or political representatives have become addicts of the system of corruption, concealment and opportunism and we the followers’, victims of their vested interests.
In this regard, it is to be admitted that, for greater public good, present state government too should have been open to entertain feedback from all corners of society and explore them for successful implementation. In fact, it was our legitimate right to make any possible amendment to this new law passed by the central Government.
According to Article 370 of the Indian Constitution any law passed by the central government other than those relating to defense, foreign affairs, finance and communications are not applicable to the state of Jammu Kashmir unless they are ratified by the state legislature.
Unfortunately, the NFSA 2013 has been portrayed in such a manner in media that most of the consumers were left in a dilemma whether to accept or go with usual remonstrations.
For instance, the provision 5kg/Soul against existing 35kg/Family was highlighted and extrapolated in such a discriminatory manner and blown out of proportions that rest of the provisions of this Act did not come for public opinion. Before leaping to any blind conclusion let’s have a cursory look at the other important provisions of this landmark Act.
In the first place, this Act changed the nomenclature of major categories and subsumed many sub-categories into them. According to the revised structure and nomenclature of beneficiary categories as devised under NFSA 2013, there are three major categories of beneficiaries vis, Priority House Hold (PHH), Non-Priority House Hold (NPHH) and Exclusion (EX).
The Priority House Hold in our state includes, sub-categories. AAY (Antyodaya Anna Yojana), BPL-PHH (Below Poverty Line) and a simple PHH (Priority House Hold). The AAY rationees that belong to the poorest of poor category, will continue to get food grains in the older pattern of 35kg per family at the price of Rs 3/kg for rice and Rs 2/kg wheat as mentioned in Section 3 of the Act.
The existing BPL (Below Poverty Line) rationees belonging to poor category have been renamed as (BPL-PHH), will now get food grains at more subsidized rates in the pattern of 5kg per soul at the price of Rs 3/kg for rice and Rs 2/kg wheat, with all other privileges/assistances/relaxations that were entitled under previously BPL Ration Card.
The third sub-category, a simple PHH category will cover those poor rationees having nominal income but and financially poor. They will be entitled food grains in the pattern of 5Kg per soul at Rs 3/kg rice and Rs 2/kg wheat respectively. However, they will not be endowed for other privileges/assistances/relaxations entitled under previously BPL Ration Card.
The second major category called Non-Priority House Hold (NPHH) is renewed form of APL (Above poverty Line) category. Mostly comprising of financially stable households, this category will get food grains in the pattern of 5kg per soul (rice and wheat) at Rs 15/kg and 4/kg respectively.
The third major category EX (Exclusion) constitutes those rationees from Above Poverty Line having considerable income and assets, that is, the population belonging to high income group (Ministers, Gazetted Officials, High Class Contractors, Businessmen, Tax payers etc) shall be given food grains at (OMR) Open Market Rates as mentioned in Section 10 of this Act.
All the food grain allocations exclude the special schemes that are time to time announced by the state or central government, like MMSFES Scheme in our state (wherein extra 5 Kg/Soul is available at Rs 15/Kg across all PHH sub-categories. The rates for the essential commodities (Rice, Atta, Sugar) distributed through government approved ration depots are deemed to be revised after June 2018.
Secondly, this Act will help in identifying the fake and fallacious ration cards that will prevent pilferage of food grains, and also rationalize its distribution to the genuine beneficiaries. Previously, under former Public Distribution Systems people from one division/district/tehsil after migration used unfair means to withdraw ration from more than one place by having multiple bogus ration cards.
Under NFSA, as linking of UID (Aadhaar) of the ration card holder and its members has been made mandatory, this will expose any discrepancy and double entry of ration cards holders or souls in the ration cards.
Furthermore, the provision of per soul provision will prevent the undue excess and diversion of food grains and help in equitable distribution based on realistic and logical need rather than lump sum pattern.
For instance, under existing TPDS addition of a new ration card holder (irrespective of number of members) resulted in requisition of extra 35kg rice to the existing allocation which heavily overburdened the state for procurement, to cater virtual shortage of food grains. This ultimately affected the consumer and resulted in more food insecurity.
Now, no such cumulative burden of food grains will be confronted, as under this Act, a new ration card holder will get his own quota of ration depending upon member strength family and it will be deducted from the quota of parent ration ticket (by automatically identifying and deleting number of souls from it) under which he/she was previously enrolled.
Thirdly, implementation of NFSA 2013 will guarantee security of subsidy to all legitimate consumers in a fair manner. Under any circumstance, if food grains are not provided to the rationees, an equivalent amount in the form of Food Security Allowance will be credited to their bank accounts as mentioned in Section 8 of this Act.
This is in addition to the normal subsidy that will be credited to beneficiaries on various essential commodities distributed by the government approved depots/stores.
To cater the needs of special categories in the society like children, pregnant and lactating women, adolescent girls etc, Food Security Act 2013 guarantees provision of ration to these categories through registered ICDS/AnganwadiCenters and schools in the form of MDM (Mid-Day-Meals) as mentioned in its Section 4, 5 and 6.
Thus it becomes duty of head of the household and guardians to register their wards and relevant beneficiaries in these institutions. Besides the same, there is also provision of entitlement of ration for senior citizens and persons with disabilities dealt in separate Section 2 of the Act.
This Act also envisions digitization of the TDPS apart from the various modernized developments like digital weighing machines, GPS tracking Govt. approved depots/stores, Aadhaar seeding, bank account updation, e-ration tickets for more transparency and paperless information dissemination and retrieval.
Considering the long-term benefits NFSA 2013 is the most rational and pro-poor legislation in the history of Public Distribution System, but still, at the time of its implementation in our state most of the populace seemed to be in a dilemma and were deeply concerned about 5kg/soul Vs 35kg/family and fell prey to the diplomatically motivated protests which eventually faded away.
However, the real concern for every single citizen of Jammu Kashmir should have been and must be to preserve and safeguard their fertile land that is shrinking by each passing year. It was painstaking that on one hand our farmers and landholders who are at the helm of violating the Land Conversion Acts and on the other hand they were out there on the roads for remonstrations against this legislation.
It is disgraceful to see these dual and hypocritical standards of people. Although, none of us is oblivious of the fact that this is due to their own negligence that has put them into the begging bowl position.
In most parts of our Valley people are obsessed with construction of shopping malls, multi-storied complexes and residential buildings on fertile paddy fields and orchids, a trend that is spreading like forest fire in most fertile districts like Kulgam, Anantnag, Pulwama, Budgam etc.
Days are not far when district Kulgam known as the “Rice Bowl of Kashmir” will be rendered to just a Dust Bowl. If this goes unabated sooner than later, we will be forced to give up all our cultural assets including food habits and change our staple food to other alternatives. And we will be left lurching and lamenting in those beautifully depicted words of KhaleelDhantevi.
Ab Mei Ration Ki Qataaron Mai NazarAata Hu
ApnaeKhaeton Se Bichadney Ki SazaPAata Hu
Author is Food Safety Officer, Drug's & Food Control Organization, Kashmir