The government has virtually cleared all hurdles in the way of the ambitious National Food Security Bill, which stems from a Congress poll promise.
Food minister Kuruppasserry Varkey Thomas on the bill’s final contours in an interview to Hindustan Times.
The food security bill was steered by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. Is she happy with the outcomes?
Mrs Gandhi is monitoring it on a daily basis now, sending comments everyday. It is she who said 2.5 crore “poorest of the poor” families must be covered.
These are those households that are poorest among those below the poverty line and already covered under a food scheme called the "Antodaya Anna Yojana". Mrs Gandhi also asked special allocations, such as those for pregnant and lactating women, to be in the form of cooked food only so that they get calorific value.
The standing committee did not specifically say whether they should be counted in or not. It only recommended two categories: those covered under the food bill and those to be excluded.
So, our final coverage may go up slightly (from 67%), while covering 75% of the rural and 50% of the urban population.
Mrs Gandhi has also said all beneficiaries must get rice, wheat and millets at Rs.3, Rs.2 and Rs.1, with no additional costs (of transportation) passed on to them.
So who should bear the transportation costs?
Currently, some state governments bear the transportation charges. Some states pass it on to consumers. Under the food security law, states will have to bear it.
What is the timeline you are looking at to pass the bill?
We want to introduce the bill in the first week of March and get it passed in the second half of the budget session. We want to get the food law up and running during the tenure of this government.
What about internal differences, such as resistance from Pawar?
Sharad Pawar has come round. His ministry has itself projected enough food production to support the bill. In fact, the food ministry has projected food output figures till 2040, which say we will have enough grains.
Planning Commission has told us a subsidy bill of about Rs.1.20 lakh crore annually is not an issue. The finance ministry is totally in agreement. Now, even the BJP has welcomed it.
So, the bill will be rolled out before the next elections?
Once passed, some states are in a position to implement it. Others will follow. We will implement the law as soon as it is passed.