More than two years after Parliament passed the tiol Food Security Act, 2013, the Assam government is all set to implement the scheme. From 24 December onwards, about 2.4 crore people in the State will begin receiving subsidised rice at Rs 3 per kg. Every eligible person both below and above the poverty line, will receive 5 kg of subsidised rice per month. About 84 percent people in rural areas and 60 percent people in urban areas in the State will be covered under the scheme. Announcing this, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi did not let go of the opportunity to make a political statement. He claimed that his government would have implemented this scheme in July last year itself, had not the incoming NDA government at the Centre delayed matters by ‘introducing a mandatory clause of making all data computerised’. According to Gogoi, this yet again proves the ‘anti-poor’ character of the Central government. But considering that rampant corruption and anomalies like duplication and bogus beneficiaries have made utter mockery of most Central schemes, is it at all unreasoble if the Central government now insists upon computerisation of public distribution system (PDS) and digitisation of ration cards in the states? After all, when the UPA government began the drive to issue Aadhaar cards under the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), it dreamed of creating the world’s biggest electronic database of 125 crore (and more) Indians.
Such a database would make possible foolproof transfer of cash assistance and benefits to deserving people under various welfare schemes. Much against expectations, Prime Minister rendra Modi has backed this ambitious UPA project to the hilt, even though Parliament is yet to pass the bill and the Supreme Court has frowned upon making Aadhaar cards mandatory. So efforts to set up other computerised databases are going ahead, like the ‘Pahal’ project to provide LPG subsidies to crores of households. The fact is that no political party in the country will dare to oppose the food security law or obstruct its implementation, despite the fiscal burden. The political cost will be too heavy, which is the reason opposition parties joined hands with the UPA to pass the law in September 2013. State governments were then given a year to implement the scheme, but the deadline had to be extended thrice, the latest ending in September this year. Despite the massive computerisation exercise, as many as 22 states and union territories have already rolled out the food security law while thirteen more will come aboard by March next year. The last state to do so will be Tamil du by July 2016, since it is also setting up a separate universal PDS. So the Tarun Gogoi government is stretching the truth when it claims that Assam had to start late with the scheme because of computerisation being made mandatory. Other states too have faced the same problem but are going full steam ahead. Trying to make political mileage by such accusations is not likely to yield much; the UPA itself failed to derive any political benefit from the scheme in the 2014 general elections.
The stark truth is that despite India’s growth story, vast sections of its population are going hungry and malnourished. The need to safeguard the population from food insecurity is so great that the Indian government is presently waging a fierce battle at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The US and other developed countries are dead set against food security laws that developing countries like India are implementing. Under India’s food security law — the government is procuring foodgrain from farmers by trying to give them good prices, while providing the foodgrain cheap under the PDS to beneficiaries. In the process, the government is offering huge subsidy which the developed countries denounce as ‘unfair and trade distorting’. The developing tions are arguing that the right to food is a basic human right, which can never be compromised by rules of intertiol trade; rather, WTO rules should promote food security across the globe. Even among the sustaible development goals (SDG) adopted by the United tions in August this year, food security figured as the second goal after the first goal of ending world hunger. India has also pointed out the double standards in the developed bloc protecting its farmers while taking a jaundiced view of governments in India giving subsidies to lakhs of poor farmers. Even in the just-concluded WTO negotiations in irobi, this dispute generated a lot of heat. Filly, developing tions have maged to secure commitments allowing them to use special safeguard mechanism (SSM) to protect their farmers dumping and other harmful import practices, as well as a work plan on a permanent solution to the issue of food security. Food security is a matter of life and death for India, and should remain above partisan politics in the country.