April 1, 2010


When I got to know about the plan of the current government to pass the Right to Food Act, I went through a series of feelings. First it was dismay, followed by optimism, further followed by despair. For the first few minutes, I kept wondering why did it take so much time to provide the most basic and fundamental right to the citizens of this country? It is not that we have become self sufficient with respect to food only recently; on the contrary, we as a nation have secured food sufficiency since decades, but still allowed food grains to decay in our godowns, and not let them reach those who have been starving to death! Anyway, considering that it is better late than never, I felt that finally the common man and his poorer cousins were getting more attention from the government, which had been too engrossed in trying to save India Inc. from recession. I felt happy because this particular bill becomes even more pertinent at this point in time as the prices of food grains and cereals in the last one year have risen to such an extent that many items have become nearly out of reach of the common man. Needless to say, nothing much has been done to change much of that, as a result of which the middlemen and hoarders are making obscene margins at the cost of both farmers and the consumers.

Thus, from that perspective, the very concept of the Right to Food Act gives the fundamental right to every citizen to get safe and nutritious food, consistent with an adequate diet, necessary to lead an active and healthy life with dignity! But then, there are many glitches in the draft bill – to begin with, the fact that the quantum of food-grains has been fixed in the draft at 25kg per month, against an earlier Supreme Court directive of 35kg. Along with this, there is a huge gap between the Center and the states with respect to the number of people below the poverty line. The Center has budgeted the bill assuming 6.75 crores people below poverty line, whereas the states have already issued over 10 crore BPL cards. Not to forget, the assumptions for both the states and the Center are far from reality, as the basic paradigm of defining poverty remains questionable in itself in the Indian context! In addition to this, the introduction of the bill also highlights the failure of various government programs which were targeted at giving food security to the underprivileged! A case in point is the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY), which was meant to provide subsidized food to the destitute, primitive tribes, disabled and old. Interestingly the bill is now attempting to scrap AAY and reduce the guarantee of rice to 25kg, which was 35 kgs in the case of the former, making the recipients worse off.

Along with all these gaps, the biggest gap that remains wide open is with respect to implementation of the bill, as that largely remains in the hands of the state government. It is no secret that the existing Public Distribution System has been a complete disaster! Every year, the government spends thousands of crores to procure food grains from the farmers of Punjab, Haryana and Western UP; and yet, what we witness is that blatant corruption has been perpetually robbing food from the mouths of the poor. Thus, the question that remains unanswered is that when the PDS system itself has collapsed, what guarantee does the Right to Food Act give that it would be able to solve the problem of lack of unavailability of decent and nutritious food to the masses at large? Secondly, what guarantees are there that the Act would not become just another fancied policy of the Central government, for which politicians would spare no opportunity to claim credit, even when the ground reality continues to be grim and frustrating? It was only a few years ago that the NREGA program was launched with much fanfare, and then onwards every year the allocation for the program not only has been consistently increasing, but it is also a fact that it has been extended to all the districts of India. And if reports are to be believed, then at the grass-roots level, NREGA has not been able to deliver upon its promises. It has not just failed in creating the required infrastructure in villages but has also failed in terms of creating productive engagements for the people of rural India. In most cases, corruption has been rampant and a majority of the allocated funds have been eaten away by the bureaucracy and middlemen. Thus, NREGA’s failure can also be gauged from the fact that the Right to Food Act has become imperative to give nutritious food to the poorest – because the former has failed to provide the required amount of guaranteed earning, which could have ensured the regular purchase of basic food items. In fact, one also needs to give a relook to the Right to Food Act from the standpoint that it is being promulgated for giving food security to all the poorest of Indians, who ironically are engaged in the very production of agricultural commodities – as a majority of the poorest of Indians are engaged in subsistence farming. This is shocking because it shows the sheer anomaly in the market – where the ones who actually produce the food grains cannot themselves avail of the same from the market!

All in all, most of these new laws are more like old wine in new bottle. On paper, they indeed look nice and promising, but had the existing schemes been implemented in a foolproof manner from day one, one would not have required laws to provide the masses the exercise of their own rights.



Pratik Agrawal said...

Hello Sir,
A wonderful article.
First concern of the government should be to identify the people because India is filled by millions who are virtually nowhere. And I think the UID project is doing great things in this direction. Unless you identify the target how can you think to shoot on it.
Second what government should do to provide food vouchers in the hand of poor, which is a hot topic nowadays. Because this can save government huge money, which is being spent on food subsidy and couldn't reach the target.

Pratik Agrawal

DIVYESH said...

Respected Sir,
Nice article
Here what I think is,India is lagging behind on the part of execution, all big-big announcements and plans remains lucrative only on paper which has been a biggest barrier for Our country in the road of superpower.

Thank you.

sunny said...


Aman Baghel said...

hi arindam,
very well said that we people need no governmental rights to access what already comes under our natural or moral or social right. May it be right to education or right to food. In spite of concentrating on making laws if govt. concentrates on implementing the already existing laws and providing the during-election-promised facilities then i hope most of task is done.

paul said...

A very good editorial sir, lot of valuable points, you have actually shown the clear picture of the problem, the root cause of all the basic problems in India, the inefficiency lies in the implementation part, executing a project. This is the area where actually government needs to show its leadership qualities. The cabinet while planning to implement such schemes and projects, has to ensure that jobs are assigned to right people and proper and regular follow up is needed to ensure successful implementation of projects. Great projects in India fail not only because of corruption but because of complacency of the bureaucracy. (You have written about this more clearly in your book count your chicken before they hatch)

MBA Club

neerajpanjiyara said...

article rightly exposes the reality behind the final fate of projects & programmes meant for the well being of the masses, thanks to the ineffectiveness at the implementation level.Had it not been the case, India would have been in a far better position regarding human development in real terms, as it is today. I believe, the focus of government must be on a comprehensive reform of administration at each & every level.Similar move at the political level-like reforms in election laws, legislative procedure & code of conduct, lokpal bill, etc; & at judicial level-like increase in the number of courts & judges at each level, provision of simpler,quicker & cheaper justice delivery specially at the ground level, transparency in appointing, transferring, & prosecuting corrupt judges,etc, must be in place.These could only be possible when administrative & political will is there,which is quite conspicuous by its absence.Well drawn programmes always fail at the implementation level.And the irony is this, that it is a years old problem. But nothing substantial has changed at the grass root level.Corruption at every level specially at public interface is rampant. Administrative apathetic & unresponsive behaviour & uncooperative attitude with local political leaders is quite popular & frustrating. Moral & ethical responsibility must develop among them, which could be possible only when people becomes awared enough to participate in the process of governance actively & be empowered in the same process.Only then we could expect that programmes start giving its fruitful effect on social change & development in an inclusive manner.

Classified Ass said...

Bang on!
Till the time we cut the infamous nexus between the policy makers & the babus, the lacuna of inefficient execution of policies will continue! Common Man will always be hogwashed by the old wines in new bottles!
our PM must take up Nehru's "Every black marketer should be hanged from the nearest lampost" approach & prove it in practicality.. otherwise, this nation will always lag behind! Is Mr. Singh listening?!
We Hope so!

@nkit said...

Hi! sir,
This one was indeed a great piece of writing.I feel that what's the most lacking and the biggest liabiliy of our system is-"IMPLEMENTATION".So many laws,no. of policies,programs,plans but the no implementation at all!!!!!.All that seems fairly good is still on paper only ;it doesn't exist in the real world.If implimentations are carried out also they are not at all up to the mark.
You have rightly and excellently covered this particular face of the system. I think before featuring out more illustrartive and efficient policies the system should lay stress on the complete and efficient implementation of the existing ones and in this scenario{food} which is one of the basic neccesities of ours we ought to have no compromise!!!!!!!!!!

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