A law which has been in the pipeline since mid-2009 will soon be voted on by the Lok Sabha, the Indian parliament, to ensure that families living below the poverty line receive 25kg of wheat or rice per month for 3 rupees per kilo (€0.05/kg). The supplies will be distributed via the Indian public distribution system network (PDS), a public service that allocates basic necessities, such as petrol or foodstuffs, to the country’s most destitute people. Following the food crisis of 2008 and the official food security reports regularly drawn up by the State and civil authorities, this law intends to significantly increase the currently low level of the population’s food security.
According to the malnutrition index1 devised by the IFPRI, the Welthungerhilfe and UC Riverside, which measures the malnutrition level of children under 5 years of age, infant mortality rates (equally of children below 5 years of age), and the proportion of the population whose diet is deficient in calories, India’s 17 states are categorized into three levels depending on the situation: serious, alarming and extremely alarming.
Two things are worth mentioning about the new law. Firstly, the Indian government deserves praise for its foresightedness in voluntarily identifying food security as an issue of national interest, to the extent that it is seeking to secure the former through public intervention. Nevertheless, while the objective of improving access to foodstuffs is one of the means of reducing the vulnerability of households, another lever – namely that of production – must not be disregarded. To guarantee food security, it is also necessary to enable poor people, the majority of whom in India are often farmers, to make a living from their agricultural activities alone.
There is thus a risk, if this policy is not accompanied by measures aimed at regulating agricultural markets, of seeing the “right to food”, which the law claims to defend, coexist alongside hunger and malnutrition.
1 India State Hunger Index (ISHI)