Proper selection of beneficiaries by the states and a reformed mechanism of public distribution needs to be put in place if the ambitious food security bill has to achieve its target of mitigating hunger from the country, experts said.
While NC Saxena, sitting member of National Advisory Council which had been instrumental in drafting of the bill, banked on schemes like Aadhar in plugging the PDS loopholes, former member Harsh Mander called for focusing on exclusion of the ineligible first, rather than selecting the eligible.
Saxena underscored the need for reforming the PDS mechanism and said while many states have improved, a number of them have a long way to go.
"States like Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat are doing well. Big states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar along with the northeastern states and Delhi, are not up to the mark," he said.
"A person in Faridabad district of Haryana was found possessing more than 500 ration cards. These things have to be done away with if we want to ensure that nobody goes to bed hungry. Aadhar can help in streamlining the PDS mechanism, and weeding out the ineligibles," Saxena told a news agency.
The food security bill, an ambitious project of the UPA and touted as a game-changer ahead of the next Lok Sabha polls, was recently cleared by both the Houses of Parliament.
Mander also pointed out that the real issue will be the identification of beneficiaries and the next government at the Centre will need to work towards striking a synergy among the states.
"Implementation of the food bill will very much depend on the next government. Identification of those to be entitled with foodgrains is a real challenge and I believe, that rather than who should get, the focus of the states should be on who should not. Exclusion of ineligibles is more crucial than selecting the actual beneficiaries," he said.
Mander also expressed displeasure over the non-inclusion of NAC suggestions dealing with vulnerable sections like destitute, homeless, children outside school and migrants, in the version of bill passed by Parliament.
He, however, said although not much talked about, the issue of malnutrition has somewhat been addressed in the bill through universal maternity entitlement.
"93 per cent of the workforce is out of the formal sector. The bill gives special attention to women belonging to this section as it entitles Rs 1,000 per month to them for the first six months after the child birth," he said.
Besides revamping of the PDS system, both Saxena and Mander stressed on strengthening procurement mechanism in the states to ensure that the farming community can also reap the benefits from the law and get good value of their produce.
"In many states like UP, Bihar, Assam and West Bengal, governments are not directly involved in rice procurement and it is purchased by rice mills. Due to this, farmers don't get a good value for their harvest.
"This loophole needs to be plugged both for the betterment of farmers, as well as to meet the foodgrain requirements of the governments," Saxena said.
Mander also advocated a decentralised mechanism of foodgrain procurement to ensure that benefits of the law trickle down to the farming community too and they get fair value of their produce.
Saxena also brushed aside apprehensions about country's storage capacity, saying the focus should be more on making the foodgrains available to the needy, rather than storing them in godowns.
"We need 60 mt of foodgrains for the food security bill and our storage capacity is 55 mt. What is the problem? If we keep the foodgrains in godown, they will not only rot there, but the prices will also increase," he said.