Food security for ‘almost’ all
New Delhi, October 23
In a compromise formula of sorts after many in the government as also the Planning Commission voiced dissent against universalisation of the scheme as was being proposed by several food activists who are also part of the NAC, 75 per cent of the country’s population, including 90 per cent in rural and 50 per cent in urban areas, will benefit from the scheme.
Sources said after several interactions with the Planning Commission and government representatives, the food activists accepted that universalisation of food security was not possible. Which is why the council in its sixth meeting chaired by Sonia Gandhi recommended food grain to be disbursed through two broad categories-priority and general.
Priority households, 46 per cent in rural areas and 28 per cent in urban areas, should have a monthly entitlement of 35 kg, equivalent to seven kg per person at a subsidised rate of Re 1 per kg for millets, Rs 2 for wheat and Rs 3 for rice while general category households, 44 per cent in rural areas and 22 per cent in urban areas, should get 20 kg of foodgrains at a price not exceeding 50 per cent of the MSP.
As per NAC Member Narendra Jadhav: “We are obviating the need to look at the BPL data. Starting from the top we have decided to knock off 15 per cent of the most affluent section from rural areas and 60 per cent from urban areas and including the rest under the food security net”
In the first phase, food entitlements would be extended to 85 per cent of the rural population and 40 per cent of the urban population. The full coverage of food entitlements would be extended to all by March 31, 2014. The Working Group will now draft the National Food Security Bill for consideration of the government
The scheme would cost the government an additional Rs 15,000 crores, besides Rs 1 lakh crore being presently incurred on all other schemes, including food subsidies worth Rs 56,700 crore every year.
Jadhav said the first phase of the food security law may cost the exchequer an additional Rs 15,137 crore in food subsidies. After the implementation of the final phase, the additional cost would be Rs 23,231 crore.
Terming it a historic day, NAC member MS Swaminathan said the country would be requiring 58 million tones food grain annually to fulfil its legal commitment.
According to Swaminathan, the food bill will not only increase consumption but also production of other food grain apart from wheat and rice, a direct benefit to farmers growing maize, millets and barley as the government will now have to start procuring these food grains under an organised set up like wheat and rice.
“Other grains have been included to popularise them. Besides grains like millet, barley and maize are also drought-tolerate, an extremely important point keeping in mind the climate change issues,” he said.
The Council advised that the minimum coverage and entitlements as as well as prices should remain unchanged at least until the end of XII Five Year Plan and asked the government to specify the criteria for categorisation of population into priority and general households.