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HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times
Mumbai, December 29, 2012
Terming the Centre's plan to introduce the food security bill as "an overtly populist move", Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar on Friday called for a rethink on the quantum of subsidy being offered.

While addressing party workers after the inauguration of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) office, Pawar said: "The country is going through an economic crisis. I am all for the food security bill, but we also need to look at the subsidy amount. We pay Rs. 18 to buy a kg of wheat. After this bill, around 68% of the population will be able to buy 1kg of wheat for Rs. 2," said Pawar.

"If 68% people buy wheat at such a low rate, how will the farmers get their remunerative price? They will have to start cultivating some other crop. This could lead to a serious food security issue in the nation," he said.

The NCP chief said that when things are offered for free or at such nominal costs they tend to lose their value. Instead of including 68% of the population, the bill should make a provision for 50% or 75 % subsidy for the poor, he said.

While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in his address at the National Development Council (NDC), had said that there has been a dip in the number of below poverty line people in the country, the concessions being offered have not changed, he said.

Explaining further, Pawar said that the payment for a day's labour under the employment guarantee scheme is Rs. 145. With two days of labour, the person would be able to buy 35kg wheat at the revised rate, which he could use for two months, Pawar said.

Pawar has been questioning the feasibility of this bill, touted as the pet project of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, since its inception. Pawar's criticism comes at a time when the bill has been cleared by the Cabinet and is set to be presented before the Lok Sabha in the next session.