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Food Security bill will ensure that grains will not rot in warehouses: Harsh Mander

posted Dec 22, 2011, 11:33 PM by Puneet Goyal
Krish Fernandes, TNN Dec 22, 2011, 02.19AM IST
PANAJI: Amidst the debate on the pros and cons of the National Food Security Bill, architect of the initial draft of the bill Harsh Mander said that the current regime of buying grain and refusing to distribute is highly flawed. Mander, who drafted the bill as a member of the National Advisory Council (NAC), told TOI that the food bill will close that circle (of buying grain and wasting it).

The bill will ensure that the grain will not rot in warehouses, because it is a legal duty to distribute it to the people, he added.

The comments of the special commissioner appointed by the Supreme Court of India to advise it in the Right to Food case on hunger and state responsibility assume significance as the Union cabinet has approved the Food Security Bill despite reservations from certain quarters, including agriculture minister Sharad Pawar.

When asked about the effect the bill would have on the exchequer, Mander said, "It is about our priorities...what is worth spending and what is not. In a country where every second child is malnourished what could be more important?"

Mander also felt that the direct cash transfer system (to the poor) was not an alternative to tackle corruption and wastage in the public distribution system (PDS) as it would lead to a collapse of existing mechanisms such as minimum support price to farmers, collection and distribution of food grain.

Asked if he was happy with the bill, Mander said, "I think it is a great bill...I'm happy with substantial parts of it. It will ensure one hot meal a day for children below 14, food for destitute people, and maternity entitlements. These things are really valuable in the bill."
"Economists feel we are doing too much but many of us (activists) feel we need to have a near universal project due to the (government's) inability to distinguish the real poor in India," he added.

But he also felt improvements could be made to it. "The NAC drafted a strong Right To Information (RTI) Bill, the government greatly weakened it and the standing committee made 153 amendments to make it a strong bill," said Mander, who is hoping that the Food Security Bill will take a similar trajectory.
Asked for his thoughts on the much criticized PDS, Mander said, "That the PDS needs to improve in many states is obvious. I think PDS can improve if the enforcement and grievance redressal system (of the PDS) improves."

Elaborating, Mander observed "many of us see it as transfer of subsidy to consumers, but the PDS is about buying food grains at a minimum support price...the distribution system. But substituting with cash would lead to a collapse of this system".

"Secondly, money in the family is usually controlled by the men who may not use it for food. But food in the family is controlled by the women of the family (and so will help the malnourished)," Mander added.
He felt the opposition to the bill was due to the two very different visions for India. One vision that sees economic growth with fiscal prudence, jobs and wealth increase; and the second one that feels that the government needs to spend more.