The UPAs food security legislation,introduced first as an ordinance and then as a bill pending discussion in Parliament,comes at a time when BJP-led Chhattisgarh already has a law in place. Each legislation is similar to the other in some respects and differs in others.
With urban coverage capped at 50 per cent of the population and rural coverage at 75,the central legislation looks at 67 per cent of the total population. The Chhattisgarh Food and Nutrition Security Act covers 90 per cent of its population.
The Centre has two broad categories,Antyodaya (poorest of the poor) and priority families to be decided by states,while Chhattisgarh adds a third,general households. Both provide for 35 kg foodgrains per Antyodaya household but the rates differ. The central legislation provides for 5 kg per person in priority families while the one in Chhattisgarh entitles such families too to 35 kg. Besides,Chhattisgarh has additional entitlements for both kinds of families. Several other states have wider coverage and higher entitlements than in the central legislation; Tamil Nadu provides free rice.
The nationwide ration card coverage is 24.82 crore households,of which 16.58 crore will be covered under the legislation. It leaves it to states to add beneficiaries if needed but caps the central assistance.
Chhattisgarh excludes income tax payers,besides landowners in non-scheduled areas and urban house-owners whose properties exceed specified limits.
Each legislation provides for free meals and minimum calorific and protein standards for pregnant women,lactating mothers and children. The national one provides for maternity allowance not less than Rs 6,000; Chhattisgarh has the benefit but does not quantify it.
Chhattisgarhs beneficiaries include landless farm labourers,small farmers,and sections of workers,besides the destitute/homeless (daily free meals),the disaster-affected (two meals for three months) and migrants. Antyodaya here includes particularly vulnerable social groups households headed by someone terminally ill or over 60,widows,etc. It has two meals daily for those suffering from hunger or conditions akin to hunger.
Chief Minister Raman Singh feels the state law should be called one of nutrition security as it ensures pulses and free iodised salt,and has provisions for pregnant women,children and lactating mothers. The laws critics demand oil too. Tamil Nadu gives rice free and subsidises palm oil,spices,grams and pulses. Several other states provide rice at Re 1 a kg,while Himachal Pradesh subsidises pulses,iodised salt and oil for ration-card holders.
Days before Chhattisgarh passed its Act,the women and child development minister informed the Assembly that 1.15 lakh children were malnourished in Bastar.
The central legislation sets nutritional standards for the same sections,and asks states to identify and provide free meals to children who suffer from malnutrition.
If states fail to supply foodgrains,the central legislation mandates they pay food security allowance. Each legislation provides for district grievance redress officers. The central one says states may set up food commissions that can impose a penalty up to Rs 5,000 on officers not fulfilling their duties. Chhattisgarh provides for punishment under the Essential Commodities Act.
Ensuring food as a right would call for an elaborate infrastructure for states to streamline the process through all stages. Chhattisgarh has de-privatised the process. We have been able to build an infrastructure that has made food security possible, Ramans Singh says. The UPA has introduced the legislation but it will take years for many states to put such a system in place.
Despite a robust PDS,Chhattisgarh does not have a strong record in interior tribal areas. In Chintalnar of Sukma district,one PDS shop covers 75 far-flung villages. A hospital in Surguja records the deaths of hundreds of children due to malnutrition every year. The government has so far blamed Maoists; under the law it would be called upon to penalise these officers.
Each legislation say the eldest woman,not less than 18,will be considered the head of her household when it is issued a ration card.