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Food Security. And why the Supreme Court served Gujarat a sound slap

Rathin Das | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:35 IST

The order
  • Supreme Court has ordered Gujarat to implement the National Food Security Act
  • \"Isn\'t Gujarat part of India?\" SC had asked, citing non-implementation of the Act

The implementation

  • Gujarat has begun identifying the intended beneficiaries under the Act
  • Around 3.5 crore people are likely to get subsidised foodgrains as a result

More in the story

  • Why didn\'t Gujarat implement the Act in the first place?
  • What were Narendra Modi\'s objections?
  • How big is the malnutrition problem in Gujarat?

It took severe strictures from the Supreme Court to finally get the Gujarat government to implement the National Food Security Act.

The only comfort for the ruling BJP is that the apex court has rapped 7 others states for the same reason.

But the SC singled out Gujarat by asking embarrassing questions like "Is Gujarat not part of India?" and "Do you want to break away from India?"

Also read: "You want to break away from the Union of India?": SC to Gujarat govt over non-implementation of food security act

No doubt that the non-implementation of the National Food Security Act in 7 states and 2 Union territories might be because of general lethargy on part of the administration. But why did Gujarat, which claims to be the best governed state in the country, drag its feet?

Gujarat's opposition to the Act

Part of the reason could have been that the government wasn't convinced about the scheme in the first place.

When the UPA government was in the process of enacting the Right to Food, the then Chief Minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi had openly voiced his opposition to it

He shot off a letter to then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh elaborating on the 'demerits' of such a scheme.

Although the BJP had supported the Food Security Bill in Parliament, Modi had called it a drain on the resources of the government, in his 4-page letter to Manmohan Singh.

Modi's opposition was particularly strange given Gujarat's poor performance in tackling malnutrition.

In 2014, the Comptroller and Auditor General had criticised the Gujarat government saying that every third child in the state was underweight and that the supplementary nutrition programmes had failed to cover all beneficiaries.

In fact, when he was asked about the state's malnutrition problem, Modi had said that it was because "girls had become figure-conscious".

Also read: Tribal dies of hunger in 'food secure' Chhattisgarh. Who is to blame?

Of course, Gujarat did undergo some improvement in subsequent years.

State government begins work

After the apex court rap, it is now futile to expect any ruling party leader to confirm whether Modi's objections to the Act were the principal reason behind Gujarat's reluctance.

Within 24 hours of the SC verdict, Gujarat's Civil Supplies Minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama said that the state government is taking all measures to implement the NFSA from April this year.

Also read: Biraj Patnaik: time to diversify PDS, start giving pulses, oil, fruits, eggs

He informed that the identification of prospective beneficiaries under the NFSA has been completed in 18,000 village.

If the NFSA is fully implemented in Gujarat, as many as 3.5 crore people are expected to receive wheat and rice at a subsidised price of Rs 2 per kg. As of now 1.3 crore people are covered under the existing Public Distribution System.

The question is that if 3.5 crore people out of Gujarat's population of 6.5 crore need basic cereals at subsidised prices, what about all the tall claims of development we have been hearing for all these years?

Nevertheless, Gujarat government spokesman and health minister Nitin Patel said that the state government would soon publish the lists of the households eligible under the NFSA.

"As per the prescribed criterion under the Act, we have to publish the lists to invite objections and suggestions" Patel said.

"The process has been completed in the villages and it will start in the towns and cities soon," the minister said, adding that the state government will apprise the Supreme Court about the progress during the next hearing.

Antipathy to welfare schemes?

Apparently the Gujarat government's reluctance in implementing the NFSA also has an ideological dimension. Some say it could be because of the right wing antipathy to schemes which provide benefits to the poor directly.

Many people also feel that such schemes lead to an increase in wage labour rates for low paid manual jobs.

The success of the UPA government's flagship programme, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) had troubled textile mills owners in Surat so much that they had called for its discontinuation as the labour force do not return from their native villages where they get subsistence wages.

Similarly, there was an argument that the beneficiaries of the NFSA too would expect better wages at the construction sites, which were touted as living symbols of state's development saga.

Edited by Aditya Menon

Also read: #NFHS4 says India still has a nutrition problem

First published: 5 February 2016, 12:23 IST