M A I N   N E W S

Cabinet clears mega food Bill
Sonia’s ‘aam aadmi’ proposal likely to be introduced in Parliament today
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 18
Brushing aside fears of food scarcity and inflation, the Union Cabinet tonight cleared the much-awaited National Food Security Bill, taking the Manmohan Singh government a step closer to fulfilling the promise made to the “Aam Admi” in the Congress manifesto for the 2009 Lok Sabha election. The Bill is likely to be introduced in Parliament tomorrow.

Under the proposed landmark law, the government would provide rice at Rs 3 per kg and wheat at Rs 2 per kg to all people living below the poverty line (BPL) across the country.

Congress president and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi has taken special interest in taking the ambitious step forward in her capacity as the head of the National Advisory Council.

The law is aimed at providing access to food to 75 per cent of the rural population and 50 per cent of the urban households by subsidising foodgrains sold to them.

Under the proposal, coarse grains would be made available to them at Re 1 per kg. In all, 63.5 per cent of the country’s population would be legally entitled to subsidised foodgrains under the scheme.

According to Food Minister KV Thomas, the subsidy would involve Rs 3.5 lakh crore — Rs 1.1 lakh crore for the agriculture sector and Rs 95,000 crore for the poor people covered under the scheme.

Under an estimate, the government would have to step up procurement from the present 54 million tonnes to 62 million tonnes for implementing the scheme.

The crucial Food Security Bill holds rich promises for women and children.

About 2.25 crore pregnant women and lactating mothers are expected to benefit from the legislation that proposes to give Rs 1,000 per month for six months as maternity benefit. Maternity benefits that are available only in 52 districts will be extended across the country.

Aiming to empower women, the Bill also proposes that the ration card will be issued to the eldest female member of the family.

There is a provision of meals to special group such as destitutes, homeless, person living in starvation and disaster affected persons.

The proposed Bill also holds great promises for children. Children in the lower and upper primary classes would be entitled to mid-day meals as per the prescribed nutritional norms.

This year’s Union budget had provided for Rs 55,586 crore for food subsidy. But while revised estimates are that the food subsidy bill this year will be around Rs 63,000 crore, the new law would require more foodgrains and a lot more money to implement.

Fears have been expressed that the new Bill, as and when enacted, will fuel both shortages and inflation. The fears are not misplaced because in August this year, the foodgrain stock with the government was 61.27 million tonnes, short of what will be required to implement the scheme. The annual procurement of foodgrains by the Government stands at 54 million tonnes and will have to be raised to at least 62 million tonnes, if the scheme is to be implemented.

Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar had warned that the Government should be prepared for two successive years of drought before the scheme is rolled out.

The scheme was also opposed by several states, which apprehend food scarcity and higher food inflation as and when the Bill becomes the law. They had also objected to the discrepancy between the proposed central scheme and the existing Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAA) under which the poor are entitled to 35 kg rice at Rs 2 per kg. The Centre sought to go round the issue by raising the entitlement of everyone to 35 kg under the new, legal entitlement.

Who gets what

Beneficiaries include households below poverty line and general household families under existing PDS

7 kg rice and wheat per month per person to priority households at Rs 3 and Rs 2 per kg, respectively. Persons under general households would get at least 3 kg of rice and wheat at 50% of the minimum support price

Will all agree?

The Bill provides for cost-sharing. States want powere to decide criteria for beneficiaries

700 million of country’s 1.2 billion population, (75% rural and 50% urban) to be covered





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