The right to food that comes under the Article 21, right to life with reference to the Directive Principle of State Policy, Article 47 i.e. concerning about the nutrition and standard of living has led to the implementation of new and better government programmes. Such programmes include mid day meals for school children, nutritious food for adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating mothers, subsidized food for vulnerable groups i.e. Public Distribution System
Public distribution system is a government-sponsored chain of shops entrusted with the work of distributing basic food and non-food commodities to the needy sections of the society at very cheap prices. Wheat, rice, kerosene, sugar, etc. are a few major commodities distributed by the public distribution system (The Economic Times, 2016). Indian Parliament in September 2013 passed the National Food Security Act, (NFSA) 2013. The main aim of the NFSA is to make right to food as a legal power by providing subsidised food grains to two third population. NFSA mainly depends on the Targeted Public Distribution System to deliver the services through central and state government to the public people. Government has entitled households to specified quantities of selected commodities at affordable prices to Below Poverty Line (BPL) and Above Poverty Line (APL) families.
Public Distribution System is now facing many challenges especially in the tribal and hill areas for its accessibility, availability and utilisation. Most of the Indian states provide rice, wheat, sugar, palm oil, kerosene etc. through PDS. In the hill areas tribal communities were not much familiar with this modern food grains. Nutritionists recommends that palm oil is not healthy instead oils containing unsaturated fatty acids could be supplied (TNN,2012). Respective governments should understand the traditional food of indigenous people like tribal and need to provide their own land food as alternative to the rice and wheat etc.
Materials and Method
The present paper is an analysis of secondary data and author’s research experience in this field at Attappady, Kerala. For the purpose of current study, past researches conducted in this field were reviewed. Articles were searched on Google scholar using keywords and screened for relevancy. Those articles which were found to be relevant were reviewed and included in the study.
Initiation of Public Distribution System (PDS) and choice on food
Before independence, PDS was conceived as an instrument for stabilizing the food price in few urban centers, but after that it was evolved into a poverty alleviation programme. This poverty alleviation programme itself provides food security to vulnerable households. From 1992, the Government of India, initiated Revamped Public Distribution system in order to serve and provide essential commodities to the people living in the remote, backward and hilly areas. This was made to ensure food security with a wider connotation of availability, accessibility, utilization and vulnerability. While taking into each aspect of this connotation, availability of commodities under PDS system especially in the tribal areas are difficult. 90 percent of rural scheduled tribe households in Assam, 79 percent in Arunachal Pradesh and 68 percent in Chhattisgarh were excluded from the availability of PDS. Only four states i.e. Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Gujarat and Maharashtra received BPL or Anthyodaya card (The Hindu, 2016). Without ration card, it is impossible to get ration to these poverty stricken areas.
In the case of accessibility of these rations, especially in the tribal areas, it was seen that it is difficult to access the commodities those who were residing in the remote hilly areas and those who have no such infrastructure facilities like road and transport system. Some tribal people are depending on forest for their daily earnings and some others as labourers. So each day is important for their daily procurement. Most of the ration shops in the tribal areas will be opening according to the wish of the person who has the license of the respective ration shops. This may waste a handful of days of their daily works, which most of them will neglect to access these rations. So they have to depend on this ration shop owner to get their ration. A study in Vidharbha, Maharashtra shows that 50 percent of tribal are not getting ration, since ration shop owners were not frequently giving ration cards back to tribal and then take advantage by selling their quota of food grains in the open market at a huge profit.
National Food Security Act 2013 and choice of food for vulnerable group
National Food Security Act 2013 was passed by the Parliament with the objective to provide for food and nutritional security in human life approach, by accessing adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices to people to live a life with dignity. Now India’s food and nutritional security depends mainly on rice and wheat through this PDS system. This fails the self sufficiency of the people living in harsh and difficult terrain, in arid and hilly areas where there is no enough water to cultivate rice and wheat. These areas will only be meant for the coarse grains.
Under the Food Security Act, 2013, chapter 12, section 13- it was written that;
“The Central Government and the State Governments shall, while implementing the provisions of this Act and the schemes for meeting specified entitlements, give special focus to the needs of the vulnerable groups especially in remote areas and other areas which are difficult to access, hilly and tribal areas for ensuring their food security.”
The Act also focuses the need of the vulnerable groups. But it is questionable whether the centre and state is taking initiative steps to consider the needs of these vulnerable groups like tribal in understanding what kind of food commodities they prefer to have. PDS, the largest programmme in the world to provide subsidized food, concentrates mainly on rice and wheat. Rice and wheat were the grains which were once treated only for the rich people. When it got subsidized, large proportion of the people started to consume these cereals. These include the tribal people where they forced to leave their traditional crops.
Neglecting tribal choice of food
Tribes are the people of forest with their own food culture. They were the producers of their own food. But change in the agricultural pattern, consumption patterns and change in the food habits affected the tribal people. The foods like ragi, chama (bajra), jowar, millet and maize, wild greens and meat have been replaced due to the decline in forest cover and natural resources due to the shifting of the cultivation of traditional crops to rice and wheat. This shifting causes chronic and nutritional food insecurity, micronutrient deficiencies and change in cultural system and diet. Due to the above reasons there is a terrible impact in the living conditions of the tribal in Attappady results in the increased infant mortality rate (IMR- 66) due to malnutrition. The case studies conducted in Attappady from the Anganwadi workers and other paraprofessionals reveled that most of the tribes do not like the kind of rice that the ration shop is providing. The study conducted in the south eastern part of Uttar Pradesh, shows that some tribal are not purchasing or irregular in purchasing food grains from PDS since they prefer coarse grains rather than the grains provided through ration shops (Shankar, 2004). Rice wasn’t the staple food of Andhra Pradesh. While rice and wheat was introduced through PDS system, it replaced the nutritious traditional coarse grains like coarse grains like jowar, sama (barnyard millet), fontail millet etc. The farmers growing these coarse grains in their land lost hopes and interest due to low market value of these traditional crops. They are start selling lands to rich farmers and thus showed its impact on economic, social, cultural and ecological fronts. This is also the same case of Attappady, Kerala. Tribal have lost their old agricultural patterns and thus no traditional crops. These crops also have no market values, so the farmers who were dependent on this agriculture lost their daily earning and thus move to the vicious cycle of poverty.
The right to food according to the UN, 2015 focused on the sufficient food corresponding to the cultural tradition of the people. Even though, NFSA, 2013 points out the need of the vulnerable groups, no such provisions were made in centre and state governments to provide alternative food for the tribal. In Indian democratic system no such importance were given in any poverty alleviation programmes like PDS on the choice of food to the indigenous people like tribal. Some governments like Karnataka showing a model under PDS- ‘Anna bhagya’ scheme is giving importance to the regional food security by providing food commodities according to different geographical areas. Such kind of initiatives should be extended to all parts of the country according to the choice of people especially the vulnerable people in order to eliminate malnutrition especially micro nutrient deficiency. Thus this paper argues the government to initiate policies on the right to food for indigenous people.
Doctoral Fellow (PhD), Department of Social Work, University of Delhi, New Delhi
M.Phil. Research Scholar, Department of Social Work, University of Delhi, New Delhi
Pradeep Kumar Gupt
Assistant Professor, Buddha PG College, Gorakhpur University, Uttar Pradesh
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