The State agencies lift the allotted quotas of the central food pool from the godowns and distribute the grains to consumers through a network of fair price shops. The States are also free to procure additional quantities of foodgrains independently and add to the allotted quotas of food grains for distribution, though very few States do so. The FCI along with the State agencies hold and maintain the reserve ratio buffer stocks of foodgrains in addition to the operational stocks of foodgrains in addition to the operational stocks used for distribution.
The quantities of foodgrains allotted to States for distribution by the Central Government are available at all the depots of the FCI at prices, fixed by the government, i.e. ‘issue prices’ which are uniform for specified varieties or qualities of grains all over India. The issue prices are generally lower than the economic costs of the procured grains where economic costs include procurement prices, procurement incidences and distribution incidentals. Thus, the Central Government, to make available foodgrains-mainly rice and wheat to consumers at prices much below their economic cost-incurs substantial consumer subsidy on distribution of grains.
The public distribution system was started to provide food security to a majority of the poor population which resides in rural India, though economically weaker urban population has also been covered under this system. It is because a large number of rural people, mainly the agricultural labourers and other labourers, including the tribals are reliant on forest employment and depend almost totally on the market for purchasing food grains and other necessary food items.
It is they who are most vulnerable to fluctuations in incomes due to uncertain and deficient employment, seasonal variations and occasional high inflations in food prices and are therefore subjected to severe risks of undernutrition. Markets, too, are unlikely to be non- exploitative for them. Besides, quite a few of them being in the organised sector of employment have their permanent income source. Hence, they need food security most.
The concept of food security is not new to India. It has been providing food security to the weaker sections of society in the form of subsidy on necessary items. Food security means every individual has the physical, economic, social and environmental access to a balanced diet that includes the necessary macro- and micro-nutrients, safe drinking water, sanitation, environmental hygiene, primary health care and education so as to lead a healthy and productive life. Thus, food security involves proper attention to both food and non-food factors.
India a self-reliant in terms of food products but it is a great irony that a large portion of the population has to go to bed without food, though foodgrains yield has risen during recent times. The Tenth Plan foodgrains target was 230 million tonnes in 2006-07, India almost succeeded in achieving it. The production was 212.9 million tonnes. But real per capita consumption declined absolutely in case of cereals, pulses, and edible oils.
The growth rate in consumption of fruits, vegetables and milk also declined. It is really a matter of grave concern that despite surplus yield in foodgrains, the per capita food consumption is declining. Moreover, 16 per cent of the total population of the country does not have access to drinking water and 72 per cent of them do not have access to sanitation facilities. The country having achieved striking agricultural progress, poverty and poverty-induced under- and mal-nutrition are widespread. India is widely known as the home of the largest number of underfed children, and women.
The government has launched a number of programmes to ensure food security to the vulnerable sections of society, some of these popular programmes Sampoorna Gramin Rozgar Yojana, Mid-day Meal Scheme, Wheat-based Nutrition Programme, National Food for Work Programme (ANTYODAYA), Anna Yojana, etc. Besides, the government in June 1997 launched the targeted Public Distribution System in order to ensure availability of minimum quantity of food grains to the families living below the poverty line. It was intended to benefit about six crore poor families in the country at the rate of 10 kg per family per month.
Despite several attempts made by government, food security all is still a dream, particularly in rural India. Detailed analysis of the causes of food insecurity in urban and rural India have revealed that the major cause of under- and mal-nutrition in India is the lack of adequate purchasing power to permit access to balanced diets and clean drinking water. Since opportunities for employment in the organised sector are dwindling, a policy environment which enlarges opportunities for remunerative self- employment needs to be created in rural India to avoid an era of jobless economic growth.
Agriculture, comprising crop and animal husbandry, fisheries, forestry, agro-forestry and agro-processing is the largest private sector industry in India, provides livelihood opportunities for over 600 million women and men. There is need to intensify efforts to create more opportunities for gainful job opportunities in the farm and non-farm sectors.
To ensure food security to all we need to restructure the delivery system relating to all nutrition support programmes on a life cycle basis, which is starting with women, infants, young children, the old and infirm. Secondly, there should be promotion of community food security systems based on an integrated attention to conservation, cultivation and consumption.
This concept of community food bank will help in increasing the span of food security. Thirdly, there is need for creating awareness for the quality of water, besides making drinking water accessible to the masses.
The quality of water is deteriorating due to wide use of insecticides and pesticides and other human activities. Fourthly, we should try to root out the problem of micro-nutrient deficiency with the help of natural food-cum-food fortification approaches, for instance, by fortifying salt with iron, iodine, minerals and vitamins, coupled with the consumption of beta-carotene rich sweet potato or vegetables. Fifthly, we should enhance the productivity of small holdings through integrated action, including soil and plant health, water conservation and use and post-harvest technology, because the smaller the form, the greater is the need for marketable surplus in order to get cash income.
It is, therefore, by improving small farm productivity, as a single development strategy, that we can immensely contribute in ensuring food security to the masses. Besides, proper training and counselling to the farmers can also be of great help in this regard as most of Indian farmers are not educated enough to be able to know about the latest development in the field of agriculture and other requirements of agriculture.
It is the fundamental obligation of government to provide every individual the opportunities to lead a healthy life. The government needs to develop a dynamic agriculture sector keeping in view the food security needs of growing population, besides making its public distribution system efficient and public-oriented so as to achieve the target of eradicating proverty-induced malnutrition.