Friday, November 26, 2010

Analysis Of National Food Security Bill 2010 By Praveen Dalal

In this “Guest Column”, Mr. Praveen Dalal, Advocate Supreme Court of India and Managing Partner of Techno Legal Law Firm Perry4Law, has provided a brief overview of the “Salient Features” of the National Food Security Bill 2010.

Right to Food is not expressly mentioned as a Fundamental Right under the Constitution of India (COI). However, it is “implicit” in Articles 21, 39(a) and 47 of the COI. In fact, the Supreme Court of India (SCI) is presently dealing with this issue in PUCL v. Union of India (Writ Petition (Civil) No. 196 of 2001). Though the judgement is still awaited, interim orders have been passed from time to time by SCI in this regard.

Meanwhile to give a “Statutory Recognition” to Right to Food as well as to meet the mandates of Articles 21, 39(a) and 47 of the COI, the Government of India (GOI) has drafted the National Food Security Bill 2010. The Bill, when converted into an Act, would apply to the whole of India unless the Central Government excludes its operations under the “Prescribed Rules”.

The “Salient Features” of the Bill are as follow:

(1) Assured Food Security To BPL Families: Every BPL Family would be entitled to 25 kg foodgrains such as rice and / or wheat at subsidised issue prices fixed from time to time. Depending upon the availability, additional allocations of foodgrains may also be made at prescribed prices.

(2) Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS): Centre and States would jointly implement a TPDS to ensure Food Security for BPL Segment. The Centre would allocate the required quantity of foodgrains to States in this regard.

The State Government may, with its own budgetary allocation and independent of the TPDS, extend benefits of similar scheme to other families not covered by the Bill.

(3) Assignment Of Responsibilities: The State Governments may further assign, by notification, specific responsibilities for implementation of TPDS to the Panchayati Raj Institutions and Urban Local Bodies.

(4) Transparency And Accountability: The Central Government and State Governments shall take necessary steps within their respective areas of responsibility to ensure accountability and transparency in the PDS. All PDS-related records are to be placed in the public domain and open to public scrutiny.

(5) Allocation By Central Government: The Central Government is responsible for Procurement, Distribution and Transportation of Foodgrains to State Governments. In case of inability to do so, it must compensate State Government(s) “Monetarily” through Central Food Security Fund.

(6) Role Of State Governments: The State Governments must implement and monitor various schemes to ensure Food Security. Regarding TPDS the State Government(s) must “Coordinate” and “Manage” all issues pertaining to actual and effective providing of Foodgrains to BPL Families.

(7) Use Of Information And Communication Technology: To make TPDS operations transparent and efficient, State Governments shall introduce use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in all TPDS transactions.

(8) Food Security Allowance: The concerned State Government shall also be responsible for making payment of food security allowance to identified BPL families in case of failure to supply in any month the entitled quantities of foodgrains to such families. Each State/Union Territory shall set up a dedicated Food Security Allowance Fund for the purpose.

(9) Vigilance Committees: For ensuring transparency in functioning of TPDS and accountability of the functionaries, every State Government shall set up a Vigilance Committee for each fair price shop. The Committee would certify monthly regarding compliance of the scheme.

(10) Redressal of Grievances: State Government shall set up effective institutional mechanisms at various levels to resolve any grievances regarding the TPDS.

(11) Social Audits: Periodic social audits of functioning of fair prices shops/TPDS and OWS shall be conducted and reports of such social audit shall be placed in the public domain as prescribed in the Rules.

(12) Penalties for Non-Compliance: Subject to the provisions of section 20, whosoever contravenes the provisions of this Act shall be liable for penalties as provided under Section 7 of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955. Notwithstanding anything contained in any Act for the time being in force, offences relating to PDS shall be cognizable.

(13) Act to have Overriding Effect: The provisions of this Act or the Schemes made thereunder shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in any other law for the time being in force or in any instrument having effect by virtue of such law.

Prima Facie the Bill seems to be a good step in the right direction. However, many crucial and complicated legal issues have yet to be resolved by the Bill. Issues like transparency, accountability, e-governance and use of ICT, dispute resolution mechanism, Centre-State Coordination, actions against corrupt practices, etc are still to be incorporated in proper perspective and in greater details.

However, this exercise is a welcome step and I wish all the best and great success to this initiative.