Seeking to cash in on the ambitious food security programme, as many as five Congress- ruled states, including Karnataka and Kerala in south and Haryana and Himachal Pradesh in north, are planning a roll out of the scheme next month.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the meeting of party chief ministers and state unit chiefs on Food Security roll out in New Delhi. PTI Photo
Delhi, where assembly polls are scheduled by the year-end, has already announced that it would launch the new food security programme on August 20, the birth anniversary of late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Food minister KV Thomas, who has been intensely interacting with state governments over the issue, told PTI that the five states were only now waiting for revised 2011-12 poverty data of the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) to roll out the scheme.
The data will help the state governments to identify the number of people, who could be beneficiaries under the scheme, the world's largest social welfare programme intended to provide legal right over cheap foodgrains to 82 crore people.
Thomas said the Centre was also awaiting information from other states on their preparedness to launch the scheme at the earliest. There are 14 Congress-ruled states.
After the Centre came out with the ordinance on the food security bill, states have started work on modernising the public distribution system (PDS) and plugging loopholes in the system at a feverish pace for smooth roll out of the new programme.
Only on Saturday, Congress president Sonia Gandhi asked chief ministers of Congress-ruled states to expeditiously implement the food security scheme in "letter and spirit" so that "nobody sleeps hungry".
However, the party said its pro-activeness on the issue does not mean early polls.
As per the United Nations, India is home to 25% of the world's hungry poor. The food scheme, a pet project of Gandhi, is seen by the party as a "game changer" in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Thomas said the revised 2011-12 NSSO data on poverty is expected to released by the Planning Commission next week.
Earlier, the plan was to rely on the socio economic and caste census, which as per the rural development ministry will only be ready by November 2013, he added.
Karnataka wants to take a lead in implementing the food security programme given the fact the Congress has come to power there with the promise of delivering 10 kg of rice at Rs. 1 per kilo per month.
Government sources said if there was political will, even the Samajwadi Party government in Uttar Pradesh and the JD(U) dispensation in Bihar could also implement the programme at the earliest.
BJP-ruled Chhattisgarh is already implementing a similar programme, and it would be easier for the state to follow the new food security provisions of the central government, thereby reducing its subsidy burden substantially.
Tamil Nadu is also implementing the universal Public Distribution System (PDS) and the thinking in food ministry is that chief minister Jayalalithaa could utilise the opportunity to cut the state expenditure on its food programme.
This is notwithstanding the AIADMK supremo's criticism of the ambitious measure dubbing it as a political gimmick.
The food security programme aims to give legal right over 5 kg of foodgrains per person every month at highly subsidised rates of Rs. 1-3 per kg.
The government would require 62 million tonnes of foodgrains to implement this programme, costing the exchequer Rs. 1,25,000 crore annually.