The flagship National Food Security Bill won the approval of the Cabinet on Tuesday, paving the way for its introduction in Parliament in the current budget session.
The revised draft bill, which the Hindustan Times has seen, is just what Union food minister KV Thomas ordered: it promises monthly food handouts to 67% of the population — or about 800 million Indians — at a fraction of their market price.
The bill does not impose the national two-child norm for enhanced nutrition for children, an overwhelming number of them malnourished.
Rice, wheat or millets will be given at Rs. 3, Rs. 2 and Re 1 a month.
Thomas met United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi briefly to personally convey the Cabinet decision.
The bill will cover nearly 25 million poorest Indian families who enjoy higher rations under a scheme called the “Antodaya Anna Yojana”.
This is in line with a recommendation of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi.
The draft bill, likely to cost Rs. 1.31 lakh crore annually, would raise the government’s spending on food aid by nearly a third or 31%, going by a current food subsidy bill of about Rs. 1 lakh crore.
The food security bill, which stems from a Congress poll promise, is the second of the two large entitlement-based welfare legislations of the UPA government.
The previous one, a popular rural pay-for-work scheme or the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA), had helped the UPA win a second term, analysts say.
“We expect to table the bill on Friday,” Thomas said.
It will then be put to vote before being signed into law. The government hopes that the bill will muster majority support.
The government will need about 62 million tonne of foodgrains annually, while total current food stocks in government granaries are about 66 million tonne.
According to the 2012 Global Hunger Index, India has “alarming” hunger levels and ranks much below Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal.