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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 42, October 11, 2014

Women, Right to Food and Role of Panchayats

Saturday 11 October 2014, by Bidyut Mohanty



Background: Need for Food Security

The Indian state has the responsibility of raising ‘the level of nutrition and standard of living and to improve the public health’1 in terms of Article 47 of the Directive Principles of State Policy. But, in spite of having a relatively high growth rate of the economy in recent years, India’s performance in eradicating hunger and malnutrition is quite dismal compared to even the Sub-Shaharan region of Africa. In the Sub-Sahara region, the percentage of undernou-rished children below five is only 25 in contrast to 46 per cent in India. It is worse if we examine the regional data. (Mehrotra, 2011) 2 About 21.5 per cent of the babies in India are born with low weight, since mothers are undernourished. Coupled with that, the per capita availability of cereals, the staple food, has declined and contrary to some claims, this has not been compensated by items such as eggs, fruits and milk. Though the share of these items in the food basket has improved somewhat on an average, the bulk of the population does not seem to have such advantage. There are other negative indicators as well. It is noticed that a third of adult population suffers from low body mass. Similarly the proportion of malnourished children remains high. As per the National Family Health Survey-3, at least 50 per cent of the total child population is malnourished.3

In terms of all these indicators, the SC and ST community, residing in rural areas, suffer more. (Ibid.) Thus deprivation of food is a reality for a large number of Indians and this has severe implications for the condition of their health.

It should be stressed that inadequate access to food gets reflected in the indicators of mortality as well, including the infant mortality rate, maternal mortality rate as well as in stunting and other disabilities of children. Though the infant mortality rate per thousand live births has declined from 49 to 44 between 2009 and 2012, it still remains high.4 The ratio of maternal mortality too has declined between 2001 and 2009 but it is still very high with 327 per hundred thousand live births.5 As per the NFH-3, about 48 per cent of the children are stunted. Thus the goal of inclusive growth set by the Eleventh Five Year Plan still remains a distant dream.

Keeping this serious situation in mind the Government of India passed a new legislation on food security in 2013, even though the Act in its final form did have critics who wanted universal coverage and better provisions.6

Salient Features of the National Food Security Act

The Food Security Act was passed on September 10, 2013. Taking lessons from earlier initiatives, this law makes detailed provisions on such matters as identification of the beneficiaries, especially the most vulnerable groups among them, determination of allocation of foodgrains among the recipients after keeping in conside-ration the basic nutritional requirements of children and women, application of modern technology to provide efficient and transparent delivery system and grievance reddressal. The Act even takes a wider perspective linking food security with agricultural production and agrarian relations. In addition, the Act also has provisions for women’s empowerment. Even though it is innovative in some respects, it has failed to appreciate the role of the panchayati raj institutions in general, and that of women panchayat members and the women’s groups in particular, in implementing the ambitious programme of food security for multitudes of Indians.7

Identification of Beneficiaries and Quantum of Foodgrains

The Act ensures right to subsidised food up to 67 per cent of the total of India’s 1.2 billion people. The Act covers 75 per cent of the rural population and 50 per cent of the urban population. It is much more than that of the population who are below the poverty line.8 Within that, pregnant women, children in the age-group of 0-6 , school-going pupils till class VIII, and old people having no other support will be covered. The Act has the provision of providing five kilogram of food-grains per person consisting of rice, wheat or coarse grains per month at the rate of Rs 3, 2 and 1 respectively. A person covered under the Antodaya yojana9will get 35 kg foodgrains per household per month. In addition, pregnant women and lactating mothers are entitled to get nutritious food at the local anganwadi, and maternity benefits of Rs 6000 for six months. Every anganwadi and school, which serves Mid Day Meals (MDM), should have the facilities of drinking water, sanitation and proper arrangement for cooking meals. The identification of the beneficiaries has been left to the State governments. Once the list is prepared, it should be displayed in the public place. Incidentally, the identification of eligible persons will be based on caste data which is yet to be released.

Nutritional Standard

The law spells out in detail the nutritional standard for pregnant and lactating mothers, children in the age-groups of six months to three years, three to six years, or lower primary and upper primary children in the form of ‘take home ration’ or ‘hot cooked meal’. The value of the calories and that of protein to which children are entitled, will be in the manner as given in Table 1.

The services will be provided by the existing schemes such as the Mid Day Meal and ICDS for which institutional arrangements already exist. These institutions are government schools and Anganwadi centres respectively.

Responsibility of Supplying the Foodgrains to the Beneficiaries

Under the existing policy the main responsibility for procuring the foodgrains is with the Central Government and the State governments. The current foodgrain allocations to the States will be protected by the Central Government. The Food Corporation of India (FCI) as well as its branches in the States will play an important role in terms of procurement and distribution of foodgrains. The State governments will provide the food security allowances to the entitled beneficiaries in case of its inability to supply foodgrains to them. Necessary funds for this will be provided by the Central Govern-ment. The State Government will take delivery of grains from the FCI warehouses and keep those in the designated storage facilities at the district and Block levels, which should be scientifically built and maintained. Taking note of the woman’s role in the household, the law provides that the eldest woman of the household, 18 years or above, will be treated as the head of the household for the issue of the ration card.

Role of Panchayats

In the Act, enabling provision has been made to assign responsibility for the proper implementation of the Food Security Act to the ‘local authorities’. The term - ‘local authorities’ has been defined as panchayats, municipalities, cantonments, autonomous district councils and women’s groups. The Act provides that such duties as deemed necessary by the State will be performed by the local authorities. In other words, just like any other development work, in the case of food security also the State Government has the power to decide whether the panchayats would be given any responsi-bility to implement Food Security Act.

Linking with Major Schemes

Broadly speaking, the existing schemes directly related to food security are: Targeted Public Distribution Services (TPDS ), Integrated Children Development Services (ICDS) and Mid Day Meals (MDM). As everybody knows, all these schemes are in operation for a long time. But in its new form it is envisaged that the Public Distribution System (PDS) has to be reformed at the implementation level in order to prevent the leakage of foodgrains. For this purpose, the law envisages measures such as door step delivery of the subsidised foodgrains, transfer of cash to the bank accounts and distribution of food coupons to the beneficiaries wherever applicable. Dissemination of information to the beneficiaries through application of Information, Communi-cation and Training (ICT) and full scale computerisation of the list of beneficiaries along with full transparency of consumers’ records are some of the other provisions to provide efficient service. Use of the Adhaar card stipulated in the Act is no longer mandatory after the Supreme Court’s ruling.10 It should be noted that the law clearly directs the authorities to give preference to public institutions in implementing the scheme.

Grievance Redressal Mechanism

There will be a grievance redressal mechanism both at the State and district level. State Food Commissions consisting of a chairperson, five other members and a member-secretary (including at least two women and one member from the SC community and another from the ST community) will be created. Each State Government will constitute a District Grievance Redressal officer to look into the complaints of non-receipt of ration. The State Commission will monitor and evaluate the implementation of the Act, hear complaints and appeals against the orders of the District Redressal Officer.

Revitalisation of Agriculture and Agrarian Reforms

Locating the food security initiative in a wider framework to develop the rural economy, the law mentions the need to boost the supply side of the foodgrains. It envisages measures for increasing the productivity of land and infrastructural deve-lopment with greater investment in agriculture. The Act also mentions the need for keeping the interests of marginal and small famers in mind. It also has a provision for incentivising decen-tralised procurement including procurement of coarse grains.

Critiquing the National Food Security Act

Bluntly put, the new Act has some provisions such as adopting a wider coverage of consumers, introduction of a number of steps mentioned above to minimise the leakage of foodgrains while transporting the foodgrains from the FCI to the different places of distribution. Besides, a minor concession has been given to the women with the oldest woman of the household having the right to get the ration card and women’s cooperatives to manage the ration shops. Along with these, emphasis has also been given to have safe drinking water, sanitation and health care as well as adequate pension to buy food. Further, it also envisages revitalisation of agri-culture and pursuing agrarian reforms mainly to benefit small and marginal farmers while at the same time paying remunerative prices to farmers for their produce. It also envisages pro-grammes for research and development.

Indeed, the Act has many laudable features. But if one closely examines the features of the new Act, one notices that basically most of the provisions relating to distribution of food were already in operation in the existing food related schemes. The fact is that the existing schemes have not worked properly which is why a new Act in the rights-based framework was needed. The question is whether the new scheme as envisaged in the Act is equipped to work effectively even though it has the benefit of legal sanction and availability of new technology.

The Existing Food Related Schemes

It is well known that the Public Distribution Scheme (PDS) existed in some form or other even before the Second World War and it became a social policy since the First Five Year Plan in 1951.11 No doubt it has been revamped time and again to suit the needs of the people below the poverty line. But what is evident is that it has always been subjected to a top-down policy. The grains are procured and stored at the Central and State levels. After that these are transported to different parts of the country. Even now it retains basically a top-down implementation strategy except that provisions have been made to create storage facilities at the Block level. However, what is missing is the role of the panchayats in managing the Block level storage facilities of foodgrains.

Similarly, the ICDS started in 1991 and the objective has been to reach out to the pregnant women and malnourished children between 0-6. In fact the Ministry of Women and Child Development claims that it is one of most important schemes to reach out to 700 million children of India.12 As pointed out before, the pregnant women are also entitled to get free meal and a monthly allowance of Rs 6000 for six months under the existing scheme.

 Further, Mid Day Meal (MDM) was introduced to stop the dropout rates in school. It first started in the Madras Presidency in 1925. But later the scheme became a national policy of India in the year in 1984-85. The amount of calorie was determined as 300 cal, and 12 to 15 g protein.13 But all these existing schemes were marred with various leakages.14

The new Act kept the structures of all the old schemes intact but tried to plug the leakages by such means as use of cash transfer to the card holders, tracking the truck-load of grains through the technology of GPS etc. Insofar as the implementation of the PDS goes, it has been pointed out that various leakage-proof methods of payment for delivering food to the final and needy consumers will be introduced. Indeed some of the States such as Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh have already tried to improve the delivery system of food to the final consumers. Madhya Pradesh’s “Samriddhi” model of the working of financial inclusion to the deserving consumers for different government schemes has been evalua-ted by the UNDP. As per the requirements under the scheme, the family data, including the entitlements to various schemes has been collected, computerised and stored. After that ultra small banks have been introduced to directly pay to the personal account of the consumers.

As per the UNDP survey, it is working successfully with minimum leakage.15 But the most important point to enquire is whether, in preparing the list of beneficiaries, all the eligible persons are covered.16 For example, the expert group on the Food Bill had pointed out in 2010 that in many instances a significant number of the eligible beneficiaries had been excluded from the BPL list.17 It has often been reported that in order to obtain food at a subsidised rate the influential persons of the village get themselves enrolled as eligible beneficiaries and the deserving poor fail to access the benefit to which they are entitled. In order to remove such distortions, the new Act has raised the coverage to 75 per cent of the total population. Still it may not work given the nature of the situation on the ground.

There is yet another problem. With a growing trend of conspicuous consumption by the middle class, the well-to-do section of the population were found to be consuming more meat and milk products and to meet their demands there was the tendency to feed grains to the goats, chickens, pigs and cows, thus diverting a part of the available foodgrains away from human consumption to animal consumption.18 This fact creates the apprehension that a part of the foodgrains meant for public distribution may be cornered by the traders and diverted both by legal and illegal means to the market of grains for animal consumption.

Another issue is that the capacity of a family to buy foodgrains even at a cheap rate depends on its purchasing power.19 Further, it is, no doubt, good that the oldest woman of the household will have the family’s ration card in her name. But it may also become a cause of possible conflict and domestic violence against women. Sometimes, a drunkard or abusive husband or son may beat her up and snatch away the ration card for pawning. Even then the new provision is welcome. But it is important to be alert to such eventualities.

Many studies show that the present Act does not meet the requirement of what is needed to tackle malnourishment. According to one study of the ICDS and MDM, there are 61 million chronically undernourished children, and eight million malnourished children. But under the new law the nutrition provided with is not adequate to give them full nourishment.20 Others21have pointed out that as per the rules of ICDS, the anganwadi is supposed to isolate the malnourished children and facilitate their treatment in the hospital on a priority basis. In reality, however, invariably those children who belong to the marginalised sections are never considered for treatment until they fall to the zone of acute malnourishment. Besides, if they are sent to the hospital, the malnourished children are not allowed to stay in the hospital for a reasonable period to recover fully.

A major question is whether the girl child would still get the required nourishment given the social attitude that does not give equal treatment to girls and boys. Normally, the intra-family distribution of food is biased against the girl child. The problem may be compounded because the amount of food required per person is seven kg, but under the Act entitlement is only five kg.22 The possibility that the shortage between the requirement and entitlement would be covered by making discrimination against women and girl children cannot be ruled out. Under the new Act, pregnant women are entitled to nutritious food and a monthly allowance. Leakages have occurred while implementing similar kind of facilities under the ICDS also.23 Thus past experiences show that the poor lose out in practice despite provisions in law or administrative policies that ensure their entitlement.

Agrarian Reforms and Food Security

Both the Food Security Act 2013 and MGNREG scheme emphasise, among other things, on increasing the productivity of land through the strengthening of the infrastructure. These two schemes seek to raise productivity by digging wells and undertaking other activity of long-term importance to improve the productivity of land. For such purpose money is provided under the MGNREGS to improve the productivity of the land-holdings of the small and marginal farmers.24 Both the schemes also highlight steps to provide better access to the markets.

It is necessary to take note of the fact that the Indian agrarian economy may be characte-rised as the economy of small and marginal farmers. As per the Agriculture Census 2001, the average size of the land holding has declined from being 2.3 hectare to 1.37 hectare between 1971 and 2001. Around 80 per cent of the total farmers belong to the small and marginal categories.25 Of course the share of agriculture has declined in terms of its contribution to the Gross National Product from being 30 per cent in the Ninth Five Year Plan to 14.5 in the Eleventh Five Year Plan. But in terms of employment agriculture employs more than 50 per cent of the labour force.26 With a large size of population of 1.2 billion and the looming food crisis in the world, India can ignore the development of agriculture at its peril. It is satisfying to note that in recent times, the investment in agriculture has gone up from 17 per cent in 1999 to 28 per cent in 2008, bulk of it going for improving infrastructure.27 It is indeed a welcome development. But nothing is being done to regularise the rights of the share croppers who are the actual cultivators. This is particularly relevant to women because, now-adays, women are being increasingly found to be supervising agricultural production or working as sharecroppers28 in the absence of men. Yet their rights are not recognised. This has several serious implications.

First of all, the women are in charge of food security of the household and agriculture is becoming more and more feminised;29 but they are yet to be recognised as the cultivators. In 2007 the ILO reported that 59 per cent of the total female labour force in South Asia remains as unpaid labour in their family business. Secondly, the Government of India has made it mandatory to distribute the ceiling surplus land and waste land to women. But in effect, the outcome of the national policy on the distribution of government land did not work effectively. It is doubtful if the right to inheritance of the ancestral property would be honoured either due to the strong patriarchal tradition that persists.30 Thus a large segment of the producers or persons in charge of supervising agricultural production and contributing to the family income have been ignored in the Food Security Act. Of course, one may argue that the Act recognises the role of women’s collective or Self Help Groups (SHGS) in managing the ration shops wherever possible. But they will only supervise the implementation part. It is noteworthy that women’s role as producers is not recognised. They are recognised only as implementers.

Secondly, too much importance has been given to rice, wheat and some coarse grains which are supposedly the superior grains at the cost of various types of locally produced millets and other local crops. For example, mahua flower and ragi are used as staple food extensively by the tribal groups for three-to-four months in a year. Even though it is included in the minor forest produce, the Act is silent on this. The nearly six per cent tribal population of India, who are concentrated in some regions, depend on various minor forest produce and other locally produced coarse grains as their staple. In Chhattisgarh the percentage of the tribal population is as high as 31 where the staple food of the tribals varies.31 One may argue that the tribal groups eat those flowers out of necessity, not out of choice. But still it is important to know if the mahua flower has any nutritional value before we give it up as inferior food. For ensuring cost-effective and sustainable food security, it would probably have been a better option, at least in certain areas, to depend on the local variety cereals, leafy vegetables and other edibles and supplementing them with some wheat or rice procured from outside. The new Act has provided for procurement from a wider geographical area. But it has not paid attention to the need to increase the productivity of the local variety of food items available in the tribal areas. Some of the minor produce like teak leaves for making cups and plates, gathering honey are mentioned as tradable products; but even in these cases nothing has been thought of in this Act or the Forest Act to increase their productivity.32

Thus on the whole the Food Security Act contains some new elements only at the implementation level and they are at best of marginal significance. But the fundamental problems such as leakage-proof methods are not addressed except for providing wider coverage. Structural problems, such as land reforms or recognising women as cultivators, have not been addressed. The procurement and storage policy still remains hierarchical without recognising the role of local initiatives. Panchayats, which have been created to bring the government to the door-step of the people, have also been ignored.

Role of Gram Sabha and Panchayats

This takes us to another fundamental weakness of the Food Security Act. The rural people in general or gram sabha are treated as the beneficiaries and not as decision-makers. Currently members of the gram sabha don’t take part in planning for ensuring food security of the village or for increasing productivity of the land. A large number of villagers are without land rights and they are not part of any process of carrying out agrarian reforms. This situation persists even after the new law came into force. Traditionally, the peasant community is known for its rationality by which it decides what to grow and when to grow depending on the weather conditions. As a result the community could minimise its loss of grain on the occasion of uncertain weather. (McAlpin, 1979)33 Now that the weather condition has become very uncertain because of climate change and other factors, it is even more important to involve the villagers in the planning process.

In the present context it should be mentioned that the gram sabha may not represent the interests of all sections of the people. In a stratified village, there is always the danger that the powerful people may grab power in the local bodies directly or indirectly and corner the benefits by co-opting the SC and ST ward members. More so if the latter don’t have right to land but work as sharecroppers. Thus by recognising their rights over land, one structural problem could have been solved effectively to ensure representation of all sections in the gram sabha. This is especially significant because several measures have been taken in the recent years to reform the structures of the panchayats in order to widen and deepen democracy at the grassroots level.34

However, the panchayats continue to play a minor role in implementation of social sector development programmes including the public distribution system, ICDS and MDM. For managing these programmes at the local level, there are several government functionaries. These functionaries are not accountable to the panchayats. Moreover, there is hardly any demarcation of responsibilities among the three tiers of panchayats in implementing these programmes. In some programmes women’s groups have been assigned a role, but in the absence of any institutional linkage between them and the panchayats that arrangement has not worked well. The experience shows that wherever panchayats have played a central role, backed by the State, in providing basic services and have taken part in managing the public distribution system or in such land reforms programmes as identification of share-croppers, the result has been quite encouraging.

That panchayats can play a catalytic role in land reforms and thus may contribute towards increasing agricultural productivity was evident in the case of West Bengal. When West Bengal launched a vigorous land reforms programme in the late 1970s, panchayats were given important roles in implementing the same. They were involved in the process of identification of share-croppers who were given security of tenure. As a part of the land reforms programme, ceiling-surplus lands vested in the government were distributed to the landless people for cultivation. Panchayats identified the benefi-ciaries of this programme. Small and marginal farmers were given mini-agricultural kits consisting of improved seeds, fertiliser and also pesticide. Again, panchayats discharged the responsibility of identification of the beneficiaries of this programme. As a result of all these, agricultural production increased considerably.35 This goes to show that panchayats discharged their responsibility of implementing a progre-ssive land reforms policy in an effective manner. Studies have also shown that the Dalit male pradhans of Bengal could target effectively in distributing agricultural kits to the fellow villagers and could deliver basic services to female headed house-holds of their villages.36 Evidence from several States suggest that the panchayats can take charge of local development plans effectively including implementation of such difficult programmes as land reforms and increase in agricultural productivity.

Women in Panchayats

The women members work in panchayats under the double burden of domestic responsibilities, that include care-needs of the family, and simultaneously work on family farm. But their work is still neither recognised nor valued. As elected representatives to the panchayats, they are expected to face the challenges of these institutions. They got opportunities to become representatives in panchayats under the reser-vation provisions. It is true that many of them find it difficult to learn the ropes of politics, but one has to remember that they work under sub-optimal conditions where intra-and inter-caste patriarchy ensure that they remain subordinate to the upper-caste and male panchayat members. Of course, recent resear-ches show that in many places women sarpanches are able to deliver basic services by being a part of the women’s collective or being guided by the civil society organisations or even being helped by the family members.37 For example, the study conducted by UNDP and the Ministry of Panchayati Raj between 2003 and 2008 in ten States showed that wherever elected women representatives became a part of the women’s collective and were backed by the civil society members, they could perform well in delivering basic services, such as water and electricity etc. These women could lobby in the gram sabha to get things done.38 The Koodumba-shree, a micro-credit programme in Kerala, has been applauded for enabling women to gainfully operate micro-credit groups and through that channel get elected to panchayats and become successful leaders.39

Similarly an all-India study conducted in 2007 showed that elected women representatives delivered the basic services, including nutrition-related services for children, once they were made aware of their role.40 It was also noted that the women efficiently looked after the programmes of immunisation, including admin-istering polio drops.41 Yet, according to the study, the villagers don’t think of them as being capable leaders due to their gender bias.42

It is also known that women in panchayats along with other women of the village can look after the storage of foodgrains in a cost-effective manner. Rural women have been doing this kind of work for ages. Women are the reservoir of the traditional knowledge of food production. Besides, they transmit the message of minimising wastage of foodgrains from generation to generation through socialisation of children. Women also play a central role in storing the foodgrains in a cost-effective way. While nobody is against the scientific storage facilities organised or to be organised at the level of the State or Districts or Blocks, it needs to be borne in mind that there are many remote areas where it is difficult to reach adequate ration during the rainy season. For such areas it would be beneficial for local people if the storage facilities of foodgrains could be set up at the gram panchayat level and managed by the women representatives of the panchayats. At the same time it has to be stressed that sustainable food security means that we not only produce more but also minimise the wastage of food as well.43

Thus it would be apparent that the pancha-yats can play an important role in the management of the Food Security Act. Unfortu-nately its members are completely sidelined under the Act. Neither the panchayats nor the gram sabhas have been given any significant role in planning for food security in the micro-region of a village or even in implementing the food supply-related schemes. It is also seen that the issues concerning sharecroppers and women cultivators have not been addressed properly.


In order to eradicate hunger and improve the dismal scenario in respect of various health indicators such as malnourishment, under-nourishment and infant mortality, the Indian Government has passed a rights-based legis-lation in the form of the Food Security Act. The Act has some innovative features in terms of implementation, such as extended coverage of the population in respect of access to food at a subsidised rate, minimising the leakage of foodgrains from the storage to the distribution point and making the oldest woman of the household as the holder of the ration card for the family etc. But such provisions, as centralised storage and distribution through the existing schemes of the PDS, ICDS and MDM etc., still remain intact along with the army of existing functionaries who had been managing those schemes. These functionaries are under the control of the State Government and they are not accountable to the panchayats. Secondly, the storage facility has been decentralised only up to the Block level. Had the storage facility gone down to the panchayat level and manage-ment responsibility given to the village women, it would have been more cost-effective and responsive to the local conditions.

The most glaring weakness of the Act is to give a marginal role to the gram sabhas as well as panchayats. It is a well-known fact that the peasant community guided by ‘peasant ratio-nality’ knows how to minimise the hazards of the uncertain weather conditions by adopting various strategies for crop production. But in the present case the gram sabhas have been reduced to being mere beneficiaries and not as planners of food production. Similarly, the panchayats have been reduced to monitoring agencies only. The Act did revive the issue of land reforms by taking up infrastructural development and improving the market facilities but did not go far enough to back them up with other necessary structural reforms. In the context of the growing phenomenon of feminisation of agriculture, it is important that women’s contribution to unpaid work in the family farm should be acknowledged and their right to land ensured. No attention has been given in the Act to address these unfinished agenda. The ultimate objective of the Act is to guarantee right to food to all, particularly those who are marginalised and vulnerable. If this objective of the Act is to be realised, it would be necessary to rectify the gaps to which attention has been drawn in the foregoing discussion. The feedback from the field showed that elected women representatives are not aware of the National Food Security Act nor do they play any active role in implementing the food-related schemes.


The panchayati raj institutions along with the gram sabhas should be given a more meaningful role in planning and implementation of the activities under the Food Security Act. Necessary adminis-trative powers along with financial resources should be given to the panchayats in order to enable them to play this important role. All the three tiers of the panchayats may be involved in the process and the responsibilities to be given to the each of the three tiers need to be spelt out.

Elected women members of panchayats and women’s groups within the villages may be involved more closely in the discharge of various tasks concerning the food security of the villagers. Capacity building programmes for panchayat members, including the women panchayat members, and the members of the women’s groups should be organised systemati-cally in order to enable them to contribute effectively towards food security.

While implementing the Food Security Act, simultaneous actions for increased food crop production have to be taken up. Such actions should include creation of infrastructure, ensuring micro-finance facilities, introducing land reforms, such as giving land to the landless, ensuring security of tenure to the sharecroppers, recognising the role of women in food production etc. The local panchayats should be involved in undertaking such tasks.

Warehouses may be built in as many panchayats as possible, giving preference to those situated in the remote areas, by converging the MGNREGS fund and other untied funds of the local bodies. Instead of sophisticated techniques, low cost traditional methods of storage of foodgrains may be used for such panchayat level warehouses. These warehouses may serve the double purpose of restricting the cost of storage and distribution and also minimising wastage of foodgrains at the Central or State warehouses caused by delay in the movement of stock and other factors.

For ensuring cost-effective and sustainable food security, especially in remote tribal areas, it would probably be a better option to depend on the local variety cereals, leafy vegetables and other edibles and supplementing them with some wheat or rice procured from outside. The new Act has not paid attention to the need for increasing the productivity of local variety of food items available in the tribal area. This option should be given due consideration.

Since a pregnant woman is entitled to monetary assistance under the National Rural Health Mission Scheme as well as the Food Security Act, coordination between the two Ministries is suggested, so that a woman does not have to run from pillar to post in order to get her dues. 


1. Government of India, Ministry of Law and Justice, The Constitution of India (2010), p. 18.

2. Santosh Mehrohotra, Anita Gandhi, The Human Development Report 2011 (New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 6.

3. 2012.pdf


5. 29aug13.pdf

6. In fact 25 per cent of the rural population have been left out as per the suggestion of the members of civil society who pleaded for having universal coverage. Jean Dreze, ‘Mending the Food Security Act’, The Hindu, May 24, 2011.


8. As per the Planning Commission, 21.9 per cent of the population are below the poverty line in 2011-12. It means that more than three times the population below poverty line will be covered.

9. The Yojana is meant for those who don’t have any other support.

10. Aadhaar-card-Judges-rule-card-NOT-mandatory-government-subsidies.html




14. Ibid.

15. financial_inclusion_model_%E2%80%98samriddhi% E2%80%99_widely_hailed.html

16. Nirakar Behuria writes that in Odisha the official gram sabhas were held in 2012 to finalise the list of beneficiaries for different progammes. This list would continue for five years. But one is not sure if all the eligible beneficiaries have been included or not. Nirakar Behuria, ‘Sarkari Gram Sabha’, Suryaprabha Odia daily, Bhubaneswar edition, November 6, 2012.


18. Recently, the NCAER has conducted a survey of the efficacy of outreaching the poor through subsidised food between 2006 and 2012. It was noticed the food offtake through ration shop has increased from 44 per cent in 2005 to 56 per cent in 2012 among the rural poor but at the same time the percentage of accessing the ration in the same period has increased from 25 to 43 among the above poverty group. In other words, during the food inflation period both the poor and non-poor accessed the subsidised foodgrains. This means the whole purpose of covering the poor may not be achieved even by the new Act. Sonalde Desai, ‘Food Security in the Time of Inflation’, The Hindu, March 29, 2014 (Delhi edition).

19. It may be argued that schemes like the MGNREGA and Self-Help Groups would ensure livelihood for hundred days and the SHGs may help women to generate some additional income. But the working of the MGNREGA is not satisfactory in many States and at best it provides job only for a couple of days. (This observation is based on the personal interviews of tribal elected women representatives in the Udla Block of Mayurbhanja District recently. Again, even if it is implemented for hundred days, the payment is not done on a regular basis. This, in turn, has led to distress migration of men in search of work under unfavourable conditions in Odisha. Similarly, the SHGs operate on a top-down basis. Recently, the Micro-Finance Institutions faced the second generation problems since they adopted coercive methods to recover money from the poor women. It seems that the women were not engaged in income- generating activities. http://articles.economictimes. 01-13/news/28425980_1_mfis-trident-microfin-kishore-kumar-puli

20. Ravi Jha, ‘India’s food security bill: Is it adequate remedy?’ -professionals-network/2013/jul/15/india-food-security-bill

21. Vandana Prasad, D. Sihna and S. Sridhar, ‘Falling Between Two Stools: Operational Inconsistencies between ICDS and NHRM in the Management of Severe Malnutrition’, Indian Pediatrics, Vol. 49, March 16, 2012 pp. 181-185.

22. Ravi Jha, op.cit.

23. Also see Vani K. Borooah, Dilip Diwakar, Nidhi Sabharwal,‘Evaluating the Social Orientation of the Integrated Child Development Services’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XLIX, Number 12 (March, 22, 2014), pp. 52-62. The authors point out as to how the quality and access to food under this scheme gets compromised. In other words, the ICDS is scantily available in the settlements of poor people and in backward States like Odisha, Bihar etc., but is prevalent on a wider scale in the North-East regions which have less requirements. Secondly, in a mixed caste village, the ICDS centres are situated not in the low-caste locations but in the colonies of high-caste people. In most cases the quality of food is bad and high-caste people don’t access it. But if the quality improves, then also the low-caste people may not get it since it will be cornered by the rich people of the area. In either case the poor loses out.

24. In 2009 the MGNREGA was amended to include the small landholders belonging to the ST and SC communities, that is, beneficiaries of land reforms etc.

25. Mahendra Dev, ‘Small Farmers in India: Challenges and Opportunities’,


27. Ibid.

28. Sudha Narayanan, ‘Employment Guarantee Scheme Women’s Work and Child Care’, Economic and Political Weekly, March, 2008, pp. 10-13.




32. cts-chhattisgarh-state-minor-forest-produce-trading-development-co-operative-federation-ltd-87.html

33. AcAlpin, Michelle Burge, ‘Dearth, Famine and Risk: The Changing Impact of Crop Failures in Western India’, The Journal of Economic History, Vol. 39, No.1 (March, 1979), pp. 143-157.

34. Mathew, George, ‘Panchayati Raj in India: An Over-view’ in George Mathew (ed.), Status of Panchayati Raj In The States and Union Territories of India, 2013 (New Delhi, Concept Publishing House, 2013), p. 11.

35. Mathew, George, ‘Panchayati Raj, Food Security and Women’s Participation’, Mainstream, October 31, 1998, pp 7-9.

36. Bardhan, Pranab, Dilip Mukherjee, Monica Parra Torrado, ‘Impact of Reservation of Panchayat Pradhans in Targeting in West Bengal’,

37. Mohanty, Bidyut, ‘Decentralisation and Community Governance‘ in Bidyut Mohanty (ed.), Micro-Credit in a Cross-cultural Setting (UCSB publication, forth-coming).

38. UNDP, From Reservation to Participation: Capacity Building of Elected Women Representatives and Functio-naries of Panchayati Raj Institutions (New Delhi, 2009), pp. 1-63.

39. J. Devika, “Between ‘Empowerment’ and ‘Liberation’, The Koodumbashree Programme Initiative in Kerala”, The Indian Journal of Gender Studies, Vol. 14, Number 1, pp 33-60.

40. Beaman, Lori, Esther Duflo, Rohini Pande and Petia Toplova, ‘Women Politicians, Gender Bias, and Policy —making in Rural India’, Background paper, UNICEF, The State the World’s Children, 2007

41. Similar role performance was noticed while we inter-viewed the elected women representatives from Rayagada recently in 2014.

42. Similarly during my interview with Meena Rani Behera, a second-time woman sarpanch of Gandkipur panchayat in Jagatsinghpur District, she informed that she has brought three to four lakh rupees worth of work under the MGNREGS, but not many many men come to work since they get more remunerative work near the Paradeep Port area. However, she
also informed me that many women are coming to work.

43. There is a saying in Odia that if one wastes a morsel of grain, s/he will be deprived from the grace of goddess Lakshmi, who is also the goddess of rice in the rice belt. Thus the habits of not wasting any rice or paddy becomes a part of the growing process of the children. Simlar kind of message is prevalent in other languages as well.

Dr Bidyut Mohanty is the Head, Women’s Studies, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi.

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