Food minister KV Thomas is steering the landmark food security bill, the UPA government’s most ambitious social welfare measure so far. In an interview to Hindustan Times, Thomas explains what the law promises and how soon it could be a reality:
Food security bill was listed in the 100-day agenda announced as soon as this government came to power. Why has it taken till the fifth year of the government and now you are struggling to pass it?
It is not that we didn’t do anything in the last five years. This bill is unique in character. It ensures legal entitlement of food through the entire life of an individual. Enforcement of this law has to be done by the state governments and we started talking to states soon after this government came to power.
We have increased storage capacity of grain from 55 million tonnes to 75 million tonnes. We have been working on the modernisation of the public distribution system, working on the Aadhaar platform.
In 2011, the bill was sent to the standing committee, which took some time. As soon as the standing committee returned the bill, we accepted most of their amendments and moved the bill. We will do our best to ensure that this unique law will be in place soon.
Is there any opposition from within the government? From the finance minister that it will cost too much? From Sharad Pawar that there isn’t enough grain?
In the beginning, there were apprehensions. We took them into account. For instance, the original proposal was to give 7 kg per person a month. It was not practical and we made it 5 kgs.
The scheme will cost around Rs. 1.35 lakh crore a year, which will be R35,000 crore more than what we currently spend on our food subsidy. India can afford that kind of money. These issues were discussed at various levels and we now have a consensus.
Will this scheme lead to the destruction of agricultural market?
Government procures only 30% of the grain produced. Even if it goes up by a bit, there will still be plenty in the open market.
When do you hope this to be a law now?
After the opposition didn’t allow us to pass it in the last two sessions of Parliament, we prepared an ordinance. Then we decided that we must make another attempt to pass in Parliament after a proper debate. We are approaching the BJP.
You will have a special session of Parliament?
We may. We may call the monsoon session a little early. All options are open. We will have the law.
All options including an ordinance?
So how long will you try to persuade the BJP?
We have given ourselves a week’s time to explore the possibility of avoiding an ordinance. By the end of this week, we will decide either way.