The Author, Avika Jaini is a 2nd Year, BA.LLB (H) student of OP Jindal Global Law School, Sonepat, Haryana. She is currently interning with LatestLaws.com.
The National Food Security Act, 2013 (also known as the Right to Food Act) was signed into law on 12 September 2013. The Parliament of India introduced this act with the aim to improve food security for the citizens of India.
It has converted various existing food security programmes introduced by the Indian Government like the Integrated Child Development Services, Midday Meal Scheme and the Public Distribution System(PDS) into legal entitlements.
This Act has been very controversial in nature due to its delayed and problematic implementation throughout the states.
Q.1. What is the objective of the act?
A.1. The Parliament adopted the human life cycle approach as they sought to provide food and nutritional security. They aimed at ensuring that citizens live their lives with dignity by creating access to good quality food grains at economical prices.
Q.2. Is the act applicable all over India?
A.2. Yes, the act extends to the whole of India according to section 1(2). The implementation started in 4 states i.e. Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi. Under The Public Distribution System, the initial allocation of grains was also started in these states.
Q.3. What section of India’s population does the act target to cover?
A.3. Under The Public Distribution System, about two-thirds of the country’s population is covered. Subsidized food grains are to be received by up to 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population due to their entitlement under this act.
Q.4 What are the benefits received under this act?
A.4. This benefits accrued include being entitled to a maximum of 5kg per month of; rice at Rs.3 per kg, wheat at Rs. 2 per kg and coarse grains at Rs. 1 per kg. These are fixed prices subject to amendment only after 3 years according to the Schedule I of the act. However, 35kgs of food grains per month per household will be continued to be given to the identified poorest of the poor households which are included under the existing Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) households.
Q.5 Are there any special provisions for children under this act?
A.5. Yes, there are special provisions that have been made for children under this act. They include the use of local anganwadis for guaranteeing a free-of-charge age-appropriate meal for children up to 6 months of age. Additionally, children between the years of 6 to 14 will also be ensured one free meal in their schools.
Q.6. Are there any provisions made for furthering the cause of women empowerment?
A.6. Yes, there are many provisions made to ensure food security of women and thus, further the cause of women empowerment. They are as follows:
• The local anganwadis are used for guaranteeing a free of charge meal for every pregnant and lactating mother (i.e. during her pregnancy and six months post childbirth).
• Maternity benefits up to Rs. 6,000 are also given in instalments. However, government employees are not entitled to these maternal benefits.
• For the purpose of holding a ration card, the eldest woman of the household who is not less than 18 yrs of age will be made the head of every eligible household according to section 13.
Q.7. How are the eligible households for this act identified?
A.7. State governments are responsible for identifying eligible households. However, restraints of Antyodaya Anna Yojana Scheme’s guidelines apply along with constraints of guidelines to be “specified” for priority households. The state government must prominently display these lists of eligible households and place them in the public domain.
Q.8. What are the State Food Commissions? What is their main function?
A.8. Every State Government is required to constitute of a State Food Commission according to Section 16 of the act. They are meant to supervise and asses the implementation of the act in the state. As a part of this function, these commissions advise the state governments and their agencies and investigate violations of the rights granted by the act. They are also required to annually present a report before the state legislature.
Q.9 Is there any Grievance Redressal Mechanism? If yes, what is it?
A.9. Section 14 of the act instructs State governments to put in place various internal redressal mechanisms including call centres, helplines, designation of nodal officers, “or such other mechanisms as may be prescribed”. A District Grievance Redressal Officer (DGRO) is also directed to be appointed to ensure effective redressal of grievances. An officer will be appointed for each district. His/ Her duties include addressing complaints and taking the necessary steps as prescribed by the norms of the State Government. In addition to the DGRO, the State Food Commission may be approached to file an appeal in the case the complainant, the officer or authority against whom an order has been passed by the DGRO is not satisfied. Therefore, there is a two-tired grievance redressal structure put in place by the act.
Q.10. Are there any reforms made to the existing Public Distribution System?
A.10. Yes, there are many reforms that have been made to the already existing Public Distribution System by Section 12. They are as follows:
• Food grains can be delivered at doorsteps depending upon needs.
• ICT applications and end-to-end computerisation have been introduced.
• “Aadhaar” (UID) is now leveraged for unique identification of entitled beneficiaries.
• Management of fair price shops by women or their collectives is encouraged.
Q.11. Are there any sections ensuring transparency and accountability in all processes prescribed by the act?
A.11. Yes, there are several sections of the act devoted towards ensuring transparency and accountability. They are as follows:
• To confirm transparent recording of transactions, information and communication technology is prescribed to be used at all levels by section 12(2b). This includes end-to-end computerisation of the PDS.
• To assist supervision of all schemes, vigilance committees are set up at all levels, i.e. state, district, block and fair price shops according to section 29.
• All PDS related records must be placed in the public domain and kept open for inspection to the public according to section 27.
• Social auditing of the PDS and other social welfare schemes must be conducted periodically according to section 28(1).
Q.12. When was the act implemented? Which states/ union territories have been successful in its enactment?
A.12. Under the PDS, identification of eligible households for receiving subsidised food grains must be done within a period not exceeding 365 days as is provided by the act. Additionally, on 28 November, 2014 it was announced by the Indian government that, “Allocation of food grains to 11 States/Union Territories (U.T.s) namely, Bihar, Chandigarh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab and Rajasthan have started under the Act.”
However, on 21 July 2017, the Supreme Court noted that many states have failed to establish and appoint state food commissions. These include Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Haryana.
Moreover, a bench of Justices M.B. Lokur and N.V. Ramana indicated towards the current state of enactment of the act and said, “even after prodding by the central government and our prodding, many of the state governments have not yet established a working state food commission. This is a clear indication that there is hardly any commitment to the implementation of the NFS (National Food Security) Act,”.