he Food Security Bill (FSB), which had been in the works since UPA took office for the second time in 2009, finally received the nod from the cabinet in March. But, contrary to expectations, it was panned by many sections of the press. An editorial in The Indian Express implied that the bill had a fundamental flaw, while the one in Mint explained why it will not work. The bill received adverse reactions from the aam admi too, as was evident by the comments readers of the Financial Press left on the website.
But the FSB is not an idea that the government came up with overnight. It’s been debated over several years and across several platforms. Then why is India’s biggest social welfare policy measure facing such flak?
THE ORIGIN OF THE CAMPAIGN
The right to food campaign started when the Rajasthan unit of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court in April 2001 demanding that the country’s food stocks be used to alleviate hunger and malnutrition. The prolonged battle between the PUCL and the Union of India led to many “interventions”, like instituting food commissioners, to ensure universalisation of welfare schemes like mid-day meals for schoolchildren. Meanwhile, the UPA’s first stint had achieved two very important results that propelled the right to food campaigners to push forward their agenda: The government had passed the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (now the MGNREGA) and ensured that India grew at over 9 percent for successive years. With the country riding at such a high, the activists had asked the UPA a simple question when it took over the second time in 2009: How can India be among the world’s fastest growing economies and yet have hunger and malnutrition levels worse than that of Sub-Saharan Africa?
It turned out to be a potent argument and, despite much dilly-dallying, the UPA approved the bill in March.
WHY SO SERIOUS?
But by now, the argument had lost its edge primarily due to...