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A hasty and stunted legislation for food security in India

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The United Progressive Alliance in India, the ruling political coalition at whose centre is the Congress party, has called it “a historic initiative for ensuring food and nutritional security to the people”. By this is meant The National Food Security Bill, which was passed by the Lok Sabha on 26 August 2013.

In recent weeks, criticisms of the provisions of the bill and suggestions for its amendment gathered quickly, from political parties, from state governments, from civil society and NGOs and academics, and from citizens who have followed the twists and turns of the draft legislation since 2010. How many of these have been incorporated into the bill as passed by the Lok Sabha is still unclear, but a government press release stated that ten amendments were approved. I don’t know which ten but these would be small in number compared with the scores of amendments, corrections, modifications and re-draftings suggested by groups and coalitions that have long worked for food security in India and its states.

Sifting through news reports for relevant information, I find that:

(1) The government has said that the word ‘meal’ as used in the approved bill means hot cooked or pre-cooked and heated food and not the packaged food, which was a definition that provoked many when it was spotted in the draft. This is an important amendment as it has an impact on the enormous mid-day meals (for schoolchildren in government schools) and the integrated child development services (ICDS) programmes, which reach tens of millions. The fear was that packaged food would supplant, to the detriment of the children, hot and fresh cooked meals.

(2) As far as I can make out, another approved amendment gives states a year to implement the bill instead of six months. Earlier, under the ordinance (whose passage was roundly condemned), the central government was to determine the number of eligible beneficiaries in each state. Not only was this centrist in nature, it required the process by which beneficiary households were to be identified to be completed within 180 days, even though the guidelines for such identification are yet to be issued by the central government. Moreover, there has been no consultation with the states on this aspect.

(3) There is some reference made to the states determining their approach and measures towards implementing the bill, which will be (or may be) governed by “rules” that are to be drawn up in consultation with the state governments. This is important for, in the text of the Food Security Ordinance the central government reserved the right to introduce cash schemes instead of food in the Rules of the proposed legislation. This had signalled quite clearly its longer-term agenda of dismantling the system of procurement of grain from farmers at notified minimum support prices.

The reportage of the passing of the bill has touched upon a variety of issues and concerns, and here is a selection:

Lok Sabha passes Food Security Bill
Sonia Gandhi’s ambitious food bill gets Lok Sabha nod; UPA gets its ‘game-changer’
The Food Security Bill will cost a lot more than projected
Food security bill: Is it right or fight to food?
Long due, Food Security Bill meets mixed reaction
Food Bill will not raise fiscal deficit: Chidambaram
‘Not against Food Security Bill, but want certain changes’: BJP
Food Security a ‘historic opportunity’ or mere ‘vote security’?
Food security Bill gets Lok Sabha nod as Sonia lauds ’empowerment revolution’

The government has said that the Bill will cover 75% of the rural population and 50% percent of the urban population in all states, coming to an average of 67% for the total national population. This however will use (we await a full reading of the approved amendments that will clarify this matter) the methodology of the Planning Commission for poverty estimates which is to provide the basis for dividing the population between below and above the poverty line. This is the same methodology and ratios that have been soundly discredited.

The point that has been made forcefully by the Communist Party of India Marxist (CPIM) is that these caps on population compromise utterly the right of state governments to decide criteria as contained in the bill. The caps are set by Planning Commission methods, not by state governments themselves. That is why the guidelines that are to be drafted – via consultation, the central government has said – by the state governments must ensure the maximum inclusion, and not the limited inclusion decided by the Planning Commission.

Moreover, the All India Kisan Sabha at its 33rd All India Conference (24-27 July 2013 in Cuddalore, Tamil Nadu) had in a resolution of food security described the policy canvas against which this food security bill has now been passed:

“India has become more food-insecure over the last decade in terms of all three dimensions of food security: availability, access and absorption. Availability has been undermined by policies reducing productivity growth and making grain cultivation unremunerative. Access has been weakened by jobless growth and massive inflation destroying people’s purchasing power. Absorption has been undermined by the failure to invest in safe drinking water and sanitation. All three consequences are directly traceable to neoliberal policies. Yet, the UPA government hypocritically talks of food security and has promulgated a so-called Food Security Ordinance in an attempt to gain political mileage while flouting all norms of parliamentary democracy.”

Documents for reference:

The National Food Security Bill, 2013
The National Food Security Bill, 2011
The National Food Security Ordinance, 2013
Report of the expert committee on the national food security bill
Lok Sabha Standing Committee report on National Food Security Bill
Food subsidy and its utilisation
NRAA – Challenges of food security

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Documented and public, how climate is changing America

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Observed US Temperature Change. The colours on the map show temperature changes over the past 20 years in °F (1991-2011) compared to the 1901-1960 average. The bars on the graphs show the average temperature changes by decade for 1901-2011 (relative to the 1901-1960 average) for each region. The far right bar in each graph (2000s decade) includes 2011. The period from 2001 to 2011 was warmer than any previous decade in every region. Graphic: US-NCADAC. (Figure source: NOAA NCDC / CICS-NC. Data from NOAA NCDC.)

Observed US Temperature Change. The colours on the map show temperature changes over the past 20 years in °F (1991-2011) compared to the 1901-1960 average. The bars on the graphs show the average temperature changes by decade for 1901-2011 (relative to the 1901-1960 average) for each region. The far right bar in each graph (2000s decade) includes 2011. The period from 2001 to 2011 was warmer than any previous decade in every region. Graphic: US-NCADAC. (Figure source: NOAA NCDC / CICS-NC. Data from NOAA NCDC.)

A new draft report by the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee, which advises the government of the USA, has concluded that the evidence for a changing climate has strengthened considerably since the last such report written in 2009.

It noted that many more impacts of human-caused climate change have now been observed. “Corn producers in Iowa, oyster growers in Washington State, and maple syrup producers in Vermont have observed changes in their local climate that are outside of their experience,” said an introductory ‘letter to the people’ and added, “So, too, have  coastal planners from Florida to Maine, water managers in the arid Southwest and parts of the Southeast, and Native Americans on tribal lands across the nation.”

Major media organisations have begun reporting on the enormous study, which will be kept open for public scrutiny and comment for 90 days beginning next week. [The many chapters of the draft report can be found here.]

In the USA the National Climate Assessment is conducted under the auspices of the Global Change Research Act of 1990, which requires a report to the President and the Congress that evaluates, integrates and interprets the findings of the United States Global Change Research Program every four years.

In the USA the National Climate Assessment is conducted under the auspices of the Global Change Research Act of 1990, which requires a report to the President and the Congress that evaluates, integrates and interprets the findings of the United States Global Change Research Program every four years.

Reuters headlined its report ‘Impact of climate change hitting home, U.S. report finds’ and said: “”The consequences of climate change are now hitting the United States on several fronts, including health, infrastructure, water supply, agriculture and especially more frequent severe weather, a congressionally mandated study has concluded.”

NBC News titled its report ‘ Massive draft report warns warming is changing life in US’ and said: “Global warming is already changing America from sea to rising sea and is affecting how Americans live, a massive new federally commissioned report says.”

In its report, ‘Climate change set to make America hotter, drier and more disaster-prone’, The Guardian said: “The report, which is not due for adoption until 2014, was produced to guide federal, state and city governments in America in making long-term plans. By the end of the 21st century, climate change is expected to result in increased risk of asthma and other public health emergencies, widespread power blackouts, and mass transit shutdowns, and possibly shortages of food.”

The National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee report placed the problem before its readers in a jargon-free introductory section that will appeal as much for its simplicity as for the effort made to encourage public participation.

“Americans are noticing changes all around them,” this section has said. “Summers are longer and hotter, and periods of extreme heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer. Rain comes in heavier downpours, though in many regions there are longer dry spells in between. Hotter and drier weather and earlier snow melt mean that wildfires in the West start earlier in the year, last later into the fall, threaten more homes, cause more evacuations, and burn more acreage. In Alaska, the summer sea ice that once protected the coasts has receded, and fall storms now cause more erosion and damage that is severe enough that some communities are already facing relocation.”