The National Food Security Act of 2013 aims to provide subsidized food grains to around two-thirds of the population of India. This significant legislation represents a shift in the approach to food security, moving from a welfare-based approach to a rights-based approach.
The key features of the act are as follows:
- Coverage and entitlement: Approximately 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population will be covered under the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), with a uniform entitlement of 5kg of ration per person per month.
- Identification of households: The responsibility of identifying eligible households lies with the states and union territories.
- Maternity benefit: Pregnant women and lactating mothers (PWLM) are entitled to receive maternity benefits of at least 6000 rupees.
- Nutritional support: PWLM and children between the ages of 6 months and 14 years are entitled to meals that meet the prescribed nutritional norms under Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and Mid-Day Meal (MDM) programs.
- Women empowerment: The eldest woman above the age of 18 in a household is considered the head of the household for issuing ration cards.
- Grievance Redressal: The act establishes dedicated mechanisms for addressing grievances at the district and state levels.
- Transparency/Accountability: Provisions are made for social audits, the establishment of vigilance committees, and disclosure of Public Distribution System (PDS) records.
- Food security allowance: Beneficiaries are entitled to a food security allowance in case of non-supply of the entitled food grains or meals.
The NFSA plays a crucial role in addressing hunger and malnutrition in India:
- According to a UN report, the number of undernourished people in India decreased by 60 million between 2006 and 2019.
- Improved access to food grains has led to better outcomes in terms of hunger among the poor and underprivileged.
- The wide coverage of two-thirds of the population has increased the resilience of the poor against income shocks.
- The prevalence of stunting in children under 5 years of age decreased from 47.8% in 2012 to 34.7% in 2019, as reported by the UN.
- Monetary compensation has helped offset wage loss during pregnancy, and PWLM now have access to healthier food options such as fruits and vegetables.
- The awareness generated by Asha workers has increased the number of infants exclusively breastfed from 11.2 million in 2012 to 13.9 million in 2019.
However, India still has a long way to go to achieve nutritional sufficiency due to the following reasons:
- The number of women in reproductive age suffering from anaemia increased from 165.6 million in 2012 to 175.6 million in 2019.
- The Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey (CNNS) highlighted the prevalence of hunger and malnutrition in Indian children.
- The number of obese adults in India increased from 25.2 million in 2012 to 34.3 million in 2016.
- The institutional infrastructure for implementing the food bill is inadequate.
- Widespread corruption has diverted the benefits to ghost beneficiaries and middlemen.
While the food bill has significantly improved access to food grains, the focus should now shift towards ensuring nutritional security rather than just food security. Additionally, the structural challenges in implementing the food bill need to be addressed by leveraging technology.