The sheer sweep and scale of the National Food Security Bill — subsidised food of subsistence quantities to up to 75% of the rural population and up to 50% of the urban population—suggests it could be an election game-changer for the ruling Congress-led UPA. But when seen along with the way this legislation will be implemented, the NFSB’s pull for the Congress as a voter magnet in the 2014 elections is considerably dulled.
State governments will be in charge of implementing the NFSB, through their respective public distribution systems (PDS). The NFSB effectively sets the floor for food entitlements, but states are free to offer more. In terms of their existing food security programmes and the efficiency of their PDS, states can essentially be divided into two categories.
The first category is states that are already giving a larger food entitlement than what the Centre is promising and where the PDS is efficient: for example, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Himachal Pradesh. Here, the NFSB will, mostly, not be delivering new benefits to the people. The NFSB can make a difference in the second category of states, whose current food entitlements are smaller: like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. But to do so, it will have to fix the hugely corrupt PDS in these states, a tall ask in a year.
“We will see rapid implementation of the NFSB only in those Congress-ruled states where improvements in the PDS are possible,” says Himanshu, an assistant professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, tracking agricultural change.
also see this story on how chhattisgarh’s food security programme changed the state.