New Delhi: A review meeting was held today with independent State Food Commissions (SFCs) under the Chairmanship of Secretary, Department of Food and Public Distribution (DFPD) to share the experience of the SFCs and also to take note of the problems being faced by them towards the discharge of responsibilities mandated under National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013.
In the review meeting,Secretary, DFPD said thatwith the implementation of the National Food Security Act (NFSA),there was a paradigm shift from a welfarebased approach to providing foodgrains to the beneficiaries as a legal entitlement.He further said though a lot of progress has been made since the enactment of NFSA, a lot of ground is still to be covered. He informed the SFCs that concurrent evaluation of PDS was being conducted by institutes of repute, the link for which would be shared with SFCs for information. In a functioning democracy, an effective Public Grievance Redressal System was a must, where the quality of disposal of grievances could not be compromised.
The Secretary emphasised that while disbursingtheir functions, SFCs need to give specific consideration to vulnerable persons like PwDs, persons without shelter, sanitation workers, rag pickers etc. Hesuggested that this kind of meeting with the Chairmen/Members of SFCs need to be held on a six-monthly basis and a nationwide workshop needs to be organised for sharing of the experiences of SFCs. Thereafter, presentations were made on their functioning by SFCs of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.
Andhra Pradesh gave a very detailed presentation from the initiatives taken by SFC particularly during the covid period where for MDM programme, village volunteers, cluster resource persons and part-time teachers were used for distribution of meals at the doorstep of beneficiaries. Doorstep delivery was ensured even in the case of ICDS.
Chhattisgarh in its presentation raised the issue of lack of awareness and felt that a comprehensive programme for awareness generation needs to be put in place. They also pointed out that there was lack of coordination between various State Government Departments which led to constraints in delivery. The SFC had launched a website where a complaint system has been put in place. Beneficiary could check the status of their complaint through the system and also make suggestions. Complaints could also be transferred to DGROs through the system. Chhattisgarh also sought funds for purposes of awareness generation.
In its presentation, SFC Jharkhand mentioned that the responsibility of appointment of Members and staff rests totally with State Government which restricts their independence. They also raised the issue of having an independent DGRO. They also expressed the problem of lack of proper infrastructure to facilitate smooth functioning of SFCs. It was informed that while the Vigilance Committees were not fully operational, social audit had been conducted in the states. It was suggested that the old and disabled in the state could be provided cooked meals under the Government programmes. The need for convergence between Departments was also highlighted by Jharkhand. In context of registration of pregnant women, it was informed that the forms provided under ICDS were too detailed and complicated for the beneficiaries to fill. ThereafterSFCs of Telangana, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Punjab, Tripura, Kerala, Uttarakhand and Tamil Nadu also raised specific issues.
Some of the key issues raised by SFCs were
Puttingin place of independent DGRO
Convergence between departments
Adequate budget, infrastructure and staff for SFCs
Direct funding for one-time financial assistance to SFCs
Having a single toll free number for complaints
Uniform remuneration system for SFC members
Sharing of experience with other SFCs
Focus on awareness generation
Rationalisation of fair price shops
Exchange visits of SFCs
Regular regional level meetings
Special efforts for tribal areas
Special efforts for tribal areas for issue of ration cards etc.
In his concluding remarks, Secretary DFPD requested all SFCs to share their experience on their response to the pandemic. He asked the SFCs whether in the discharge of their functions they were giving special attention to aspirational districts where development parameters were below normal. He further queried about SFCs’ plan for special targeting of the vulnerable sections under PDS. He informed the SFCs that the centre was open to the idea of providing financial assistance to the SFCs for awareness generation. The proposal for the same could be sent to the Department through the State Governments. He advised the SFCs to inform the Central Government about the legal/financial/administrative difficulties being faced by them in discharging of their duties so that there could be these could be corrected to the extent possible.
It was emphasized that State Food Commissions have a very important role in having a strong oversight on the implementation of TPDS to ensure that poor, vulnerable and weaker sections of society are given highly subsidized ration in time and in full quantity to run the country. Since State Food Commissions are located in all parts of the country, they can discharge their functioning very effectively. State Governments were urged to strengthen the SFCs to serve the people of the States better.