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Thursday 20 October 2011

Food security bill violates SC rulings, say court commissioners

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court commissioners in the food case have warned the Union government that their draft National Food Security Act falls foul of apex court orders on providing food and nutrition to the needy.

In a letter to the government, the principal advisor to the office of commissioners,
Biraj Patnaik, noted that the draft violated several existing orders of the Supreme Court.

He said the apex court explicitly banned the role of profit making contractors and suppliers selling ready to eat meals to children but the draft bill has provisions that contradict this order. "The definition of meal is a cooked meal or ready to eat meal or take home ration, as prescribed by the central government. The words 'locally produced' should be inserted in the definition, and ready to eat food should be deleted," he said.

"The Hon'ble court has explicitly stated and reiterated, through various orders over the past few years, that meals for children to mean locally produced, 'hot cooked meals' or take home rations," he added.

Patnaik also pointed out that the issue of number of beneficiaries to be covered by such programmes was sub-judice at the moment. "The matter of the BPL/priority households is now sub-judice in the Supreme Court. Till such time that a final decision on this is taken, any mention of targeting of specific percentages of people to be covered within the ambit of the NFSB is not advisable," he said.

Hearing on the controversial Planning Commission affidavit stating urban poverty cut-off at Rs 32 in urban areas and Rs 25 in rural areas is to come up in the apex court on November 2. It remains unclear if the government intends to rethink the affidavit and not use the cut-offs for counting the beneficiaries under various social sector programmes.

Patnaik pointed out that the government already has a wide coverage of people through its targeted public distribution system and forcing a fewer number of people to avail the benefits of food security would violate apex court directives as well as federal powers of state as 'food' sits in the concurrent list.

Patnaik said various nutrition support programmes that have the backing of the court have also been kept out of the food security bill and should be added to the benefits under the proposed law. These include maternity benefits for those with children below six months, pension for senior citizens, single women and people with disability.

Patnaik has objected to the absence of a strict starvation code and the definition of priority households, which does not expressly include the vulnerable already covered under the Antodaya Anna Yojna. Groups like the aged, infirm, disabled, destitute men and women, pregnant and locating women and widows are mandated by the apex court to be included in the AAY programme but these would not automatically find inclusion in the proposed 'priority' households which get the highest support under the law

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