With several states having reservations about the National Food Security Bill (NFSB), the flagship food programme - which could be a vote catcher for the UPA in the next general elections - runs the risk of getting stalled.
Although food minister KV Thomas has agreed to some key
demands of states, including an assurance that the proposed bill will not cut down on current food grains allocation, it will not be easy to get it passed in the budget session of Parliament beginning February 21.
Besides resistance from many states, the bill has also drawn criticism from people who helped the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government come up with it.
Harsh Mander, ex-convenor of the working group of the National Advisory Council that drafted the food bill, said the parliamentary standing committee had diluted the already weakened official draft. "The quantity of grain per individual is also down to 5 kg from the proposed 7 kg (per month)… Can't have a rights-based bill without a system of independent enforcement."
Biraj Patnaik, principal adviser to the commissioners of the Supreme Court on the Right to Food campaign, said, "The second-fastest growing economy in the world has one of the worst child malnutrition records in the world and then legislates a food security bill that keeps out child malnutrition."
Jean Dreze, professor of economics, who has been at the forefront of the campaign, pointed out the public distribution system (PDS) coverage in the new framework will be 75% in rural areas and 50% in urban areas. He said it was "important to adjust them state-wise" to help poor states.
BJP-ruled Chhattisgarh may well feel the national bill will steal the thunder from its state food bill.
Madhya Pradesh, also under the BJP, has expressed doubts over implementing the direct cash transfer scheme in the food sector because UID card penetration, at present, is low.
In a recent letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Nitish Kumar asked why the burden of the scheme's implementation should by put on the states unilaterally.
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