Delivery lies in the detail

Chhattisgarh's new law refers to most food security issues in broad terms and is short on specifics

Targeting and improving food security is essential for Chhattisgarh, a state that has one of the highest hunger indices in the country. That is why it is good news that the CSI-Nihilent award for effective implementation of Centralised Online Real-time Electronic (Core) PDS (Public Distribution System), based on smart cards, was given to the Chhattisgarh state government. It is a worthwhile natural transition to build on recent improvements in the performance of its PDS and take it to the next level by enacting the Chhattisgarh Food Security Act, 2012.

The act identifies targeted groups to improve nutritional status, such as children, pregnant women and lactating mothers, destitutes, migrants, the homeless and particularly vulnerable social groups. It mentions its modus operandi and the financial responsibility of the state is laid out. But though the act addresses most relevant issues, they are referred to in very broad terms, without much detail. As a result, the act appears to be aspirational, rather than a guarantee of efficient and successful implementation.

The key challenges for food distribution programmes in India have been ensuring that the supply is of adequate quality and nutritional level. This act refers to food standards generally, but does not provide any detail of the nutritional levels to be met. Nor does it elaborate the quality of the provisions that would be provided.

The state government proposes mechanisms for internal grievance redressal. The reforms suggested include efficient methods of delivery to fair price shops; use of technology to improve transparency and prevention of leakages and diversion of resources; and leveraging the "aadhaar" card for efficient identification of target groups. The act provides for the establishment of vigilance committees to ensure transparency. However, the processes required to ensure transparency and implementation are not clear.

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