In a move that could change the patriarchal hold in the Indian family system, the draft Food Security Bill has proposed to term the eldest female member of a family, above 18 years, as the head.
The proposal, if accepted, officials say, would ensure that women get adequate say in the monthly procurement of grains under the proposed Act. Till now, the living male members of the family were considered the heads for distribution of ration cards.
The draft also talks about direct cash transfer in case food is not available in sufficient quantity with states. In such a scenario, the women will have a say in choosing food grains from the open market.
It also specifies that if a family does not have any elderly female member, the male figure will continue to head the family, but only till the time the girl in the family turns 18.
The idea had found mention in the recommendation of the National Advisory Council (NAC), headed by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, on whose format much of the draft Bill is based.
The draft also proposes distribution of grains to each entitled individual rather than the entire family, a suggestion, which has also been made by a working group on food and public distribution headed by the Planning Commission Deputy Chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia.
At present, subsidised food grains, under the public distribution system, are distributed to families below and above poverty lines, irrespective of the number of members in the family. This, experts believe, sometimes leads to distorted allocations, as sizes of families vary.
The Bill, however, is believed to have favoured dilution of NAC recommendations so far as above poverty line (APL) families in rural areas are concerned.
It proposes legal entitlement for grains to 29 per cent of above poverty line families in rural areas as against the NAC’s recommendations of 44 per cent. As such, the actual population to be covered in rural areas under the Act could come down from the NAC-proposed 90 per cent.
The draft is also believed to have proposed strict penal provisions for anyone who is found to be contravening provisions of the law. It has proposed imprisonment for three years or Rs 300,000 of fine or both for anyone who contravenes provisions made in the law, be it in states or at the Central level.
The draft proposes constitution of a National Food Security Commission and grievance redressal mechanisms in states and at the Centre, with an explicit instruction that all complaints regarding non-distribution of grains would have to be disposed within 15 days.
It suggests that distribution of grains or cooked meals to pregnant women, destitutes, homeless, migrant workers and children on the same lines as suggested by the NAC.