How much rice or wheat a day is enough for an Indian to survive on? A doctor would recommend at least 400 grams of cereals a day with pulses, vegetables, fruits and milk. But India’s MPs think she needs no more than 165 grams of cereals a day.
On 17 January a committee of parliamentarians evaluating the Right to Food Bill okayed a report that says 5 kg of cereals per month (165 grams/day) is all that the government needs to provide to each citizen under the Public Distribution System (PDS) that serves food grain at subsidised rates to the poor. This recommendation contradicts the Food Ministry’s earlier proposal to provide 7 kg of cereals per poor person every month.
A poor person is one who earns less than Rs 32 a day in cities and Rs 26 in villages. A family covered under the PDS gets 35 kg of rice or wheat per month irrespective of the number of family members. This skewed arrangement leads to larger families getting less food per person compared with smaller ones.
To remove this anomaly, the government has proposed that the quantity of food grain given should be proportional to the number of members in a family. To fix this and other problems in the PDS, the government has introduced the Right to Food Bill and is keen to enact it before the 2014 General Elections.
Introduced in December 2011, the Bill, in its initial form, envisaged dividing poor households into two categories: priority and general. The proposal was to provide 7 kg cereals per head every month to families belonging to the first category, and 3 kg per head every month to those in the second.