Food security in India is abysmally low. That is the conclusion of the special commissioners appointed by the country's Supreme Court.
The court deputes experts to collect information pertaining to petitions filed before it on some issue or other.
One such team appointed by the court to look into issues relating to food security has said that a staggering 46% of children in India are malnourished. "This is completely unacceptable since it is double the rate of malnutrition for sub-Saharan Africa.".
Following a public interest petition fled by the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) in 2001 on the extent of mass malnutrition, the court constituted a two-member team to monitor the implementation of all the court orders relating to the 'right' to food.
The Commissioners are empowered to enquire about any violations of these orders and to demand redressal, with the full authority of the Supreme Court. They are also expected to report to the court from time to time. So far the food security commissioners have submitted seven reports.
In their latest one, they talk at length on the serious health crisis among the poor consequent on the failure of the much trumpeted public distribution system (PDS), by which food grains are sold at subsidized rates to the poor.
There is a massive fraud going on in the name of the ration cards that entitle the poor to the subsidized food grains, some reports claiming the number of bogus cards could run into millions.
Vested interests siphon off 30 to 40 per cent of the food grains from the PDS, thus fattening themselves on the resources allocated to the poor, leaving the latter high and dry, it has been charged.
The nutritional security that the PDS was supposed to provide to the poor has failed to work as a blanket covering the vulnerable, the special commissioners' report asserts.
The number of below-the-poverty-line cards is inadequate and the basis of setting the poverty line is also questionable, the report insists, according to The Times of India.
The Commissioners have pointed out that the per capita availability of cereals had declined in direct correlation with reduced offtake from the PDS. "The steepest decline in availability of foodgrain in recent years is from 1997.
That was when the government moved from a universal public distribution system when foodgrain was available at subsidised rates for the entire population to a system of targeting it to Below Poverty Line (BPL) families on basis of the poverty line drawn by Planning Commission.
The trends showed that the poor in urban Indian fared no better than the rural impoverished and held across the nation.
The commissioners have recommended that the poverty line for urban areas be increased to include people spending upto Rs 1,120 per month and in rural areas to Rs 615.
The report also pointed out that whereas 87.5% of the richest lot had access to some or the other kind of ration card, 16.8% of them had secured BPL cards for themselves. The ones that should have been covered completely — in the poorest quintile of the Indian population — only 49% families possess such entitlement cards.
The National Council of Applied Economic Research has also remarked that while the government is importing food grain to maintain buffer stocks, the delivery system is falling wide off the mark.