SRINAGAR: New Delhi should keep provision for stocking of food grains to make strategic reserve requirements for feeding food-deficit and difficult areas Jammu and Kashmir and North Eastern states under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), a working paper by Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations ICRIER has recommended.
The working paper titled the (NFSA) 2013 -Challenges, Buffer Stocking and the Way Forward authored by by Shweta Saini and Ashok Gulati has said that the idea of cash transfers is mainly to reduce physical handling of grain and to give greater autonomy to the beneficiaries to choose their consumption basket.
However It should be noted that by no measure should the entire physical grain distribution mechanism be substituted with cash, as there still will be stocking of grains needed to meet the strategic reserve requirements of the country and for feeding food-deficit and difficult areas of states like Jammu and Kashmir, along with Nagaland, Manipur Mizoram, and Tripura.
The paper has also advised New Delhi not to hurry the implementation of the National Food Security Act in the rest of 25 states and UTs given the present level of unpreparedness and “apprehensions” over its delivery.
The NFSA, passed by Parliament in September, has been so far rolled out in 11 states and Union Territories. The rest of 25 states/UTs have not implemented it yet. The deadline for implementing it has been extended twice, to April 4.
The law aims at providing legal entitlement to 5 kg of subsidised foodgrains per person per month at Rs 1-3/kg to two-thirds of the country’s population.
“However, given the present level of unpreparedness and uncorrected systemic inefficiencies of the state PDS machinery, the likelihood of states defaulting on even the extended deadline is high,” said the ICRIER working paper.
“Therefore, the immediate suggestion is not to hurry the NFSA implementation process, especially not without satisfying its pre-conditions in each state,” it said.
This time should be used to carefully re-visit the objectives of the Act and provisions looking for efficient ways to attain them, it added.
Highlighting key challenges in implementing NFSA, the paper observed, “There are wider apprehensions that the Act will fail to deliver on the promises made or will deliver at a huge cost, which may not be worth the price.”
The bigger operational challenges include ensuring the adequate supply of grains every year, lowering per person entitlement or population coverage particularly when the population is expanding, unpreparedness of the implementing states, and slowing down the natural process of agricultural diversification by increasing the relevance of rice and wheat in the system, it added.
On unpreparedness of implementing states, the paper said that the progress on the public distribution system (PDS) improvement initiatives is both slow and below expectations.
“….States have been implementing the NFSA with old TPDS beneficiaries being rechristened as NFSA beneficiaries instead of undertaking fresh surveys/efforts to identify beneficiaries. This is undesirable and does not conform to the reform process initiated under the new system,” it said.
As on August 1 2014, 100 per cent identification of beneficiaries has been completed only in six states – Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Punjab and Rajasthan – out of the 11 NFSA implementing states.
The identification is still partial in the remaining five states – Bihar (87 per cent), Delhi (44 pc), Himchal Pradesh (73 pc), Madhya Pradesh (88 pc) and Chandigarh (40 pc). (With PTI inputs)