Food Security: Dividing the poor

By T.K. Rajalakshmi

, by Frontline

The flawed Bill on food security has not received the kind of publicity that the Lokpal Bill has, but that does not diminish its significance.

"THIS government has divided everything and everyone. There are different cards for different sections of the poor. If my employer, taking pity on me, gives me an old television, I am not entitled to a yellow card [Below Poverty Line card]. My son who is disabled has a special cycle which he uses to go to work. The BPL surveyors roll their eyes and say that I am earning well because I have a hand-me-down television and a wheelchair for my disabled son. They say, ‘you have a cycle, how can you be in the BPL list?’” said Aamna Khatun, a domestic worker from Kanpur who earns Rs.800 a month.

She was speaking at a convention on the right to food security organised by the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) in New Delhi on August 9, coinciding with the anniversary of Quit India Day. It was organised to highlight the public resentment against the proposed Food Security Bill and the faulty BPL survey currently under way. Nearly 500 women from at least nine States attended the convention. Delegates spoke in favour of a universal and more substantial public distribution system (PDS). The meeting covered interconnected areas, such as the proposed cash transfer system and the BPL survey, which is based on highly limited “inclusionary criteria” and broad exclusionary criteria.

It is interesting that like many other proposed pieces of legislation in recent times, the Food Security Bill, of which the scheme of cash transfers forms an integral part, has faced considerable opposition from various quarters, including women’s organisations. Ironically, just like the Women’s Reservation Bill, it has not received the kind of orchestrated attention that the demand for a Lokpal Bill has. This, however, does not diminish its significance in any manner.

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