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An analysis of the policy process of the Indian National Food Security Act of 2013 in relation to urban food insecurity

Lindgren, K. A. (2020). An analysis of the policy process of the Indian National Food Security Act of 2013 in relation to urban food insecurity. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


This thesis explores the Indian National Food Security Act of 2013 (henceforth NFSA) as an expression of Indian food policy, with specific focus on the extent that Indian urban food security was understood, considered and addressed during the policy formation of the NFSA. The NFSA seeks to provide up to 50% of the entire urban population access to the Public Distribution System (PDS). How such figures were agreed upon, and if other urban-focused entitlements were considered in the policy design, is of significance, to not only assess whether the NFSA adequately addresses the full range of urban food insecurity, but to also bring forward the motivations and interests of the policy-makers themselves.

With the overall research objective to elucidate the role that urban food security played in the policy process of the NFSA, three research questions (RQs) arose to identify: RQ1. The main dimensions of urban food insecurity in India, and the urban planning and policy context; RQ2. The main actors involved in the policy process of the NFSA, and the extent to which urban experts were consulted; RQ3. The degree to which urban food security was considered, understood and represented in the policy formulation of the NFSA. Walt and Gilson’s Policy Analysis Triangle was utilised as the conceptual framework, situated within the broader tradition and approach of critical food policy analysis. The research adopted a multi-method approach, using 26 elite semi-structured interviews as the primary data source, and conducting analysis of official policy documents and transcripts of the Lok Sabha debates as secondary data sources. Research was primarily conducted in Delhi, within circles of academics, civil society activists, bureaucrats and experts in think-tanks, to map out and understand how and if entitlements focused on urban food security changed during the NFSA’s formulation and the extent that it garnered attention up to the final Act.

The research analysis suggests that urban food security received limited attention during the formulation of the NFSA, with more focus on a broad food security approach, only differentiating between the urban and rural food insecure through eligibility. There is further evidence of long-standing urban neglect within poverty alleviation policies and a dearth of urban food security discourse within national urban programmes. This is further compounded by policies that affect the urban poor negatively, such as slum demolishment, displacement and illegalisation of slum-dwellers, as well as poor statistical evidence and understanding of urban food security by key policy-makers. The earlier drafts of the NFSA included comprehensive entitlements for the most vulnerable groups in urban areas, indicating that key actors in the policy process showed an understanding and concern towards urban food insecurity. Due to the tensions and negotiations between policy-makers, coupled with the possible undue influence of a key policy-maker, the potential of the NFSA in addressing urban food security was limited.

The findings suggest that urban food security was not of particular focus for the policy-makers involved in the NFSA, yet the initial draft of the Act, due to the influence of key academics, civil society activists and former bureaucrats within the National Advisory Council (NAC), contained substantial entitlements for urban vulnerable groups. The excising of these entitlements may have substantially weakened the potential of the NFSA to address urban food insecurity, even if perfectly implemented. Ultimately, the influence of growth-focused, economic rationalism among key governmental policy-makers tempered the vast and wide-ranging initial draft, streamlining it so that the content was ultimately only expanding upon existing policies and programmes rather than any novel approaches. More research is needed to more clearly identify and problematise the influence of commercial interests in the legislative branch, as well as to analyse the implementation of the NFSA, for its potential successes or failures.

The thesis concludes that key reforms in urban governance and planning, implementing a multidimensional framework in identifying the urban poor, as well as reintroducing the removed entitlements would significantly strengthen the response to urban food insecurity in India. A more robust nutrition security approach would also greatly benefit the urban food insecure. The broader implications highlighted by this thesis is that continued urban neglect, exacerbated by systemic policy failures in addressing urban poverty coupled with the wholesale adoption of economic rationalism, will be a growing crisis for India as its urban populations grow, with little evidence that its existing programmes and policies are suited in addressing the highlighted issues, and sufficient evidence that continued food insecurity will persist despite rising living standards and rising incomes.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Departments: Doctoral Theses
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Healthcare Services Research & Management > Food Policy
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > School of Health & Psychological Sciences Doctoral Theses
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