The flagship National Food Security Bill — whose final contours have now emerged —will give 67% of the population, or about 800 million Indians, a legal right to food aid, while in 250 poorest districts of the country, 90% of the people will be covered.
Jammu and Kashmir and the eight northeast states will also get 90% coverage since these areas are considered vulnerable to "food shocks".
The bill, which provides for fixed amounts of monthly food handouts at less than half their market price, will cost Rs. 1.19 lakh crore annually. So, India will have to increase its spending on food aid by more than a third, given that the current financial year's projected food subsidy bill is Rs. 92,493 crore.
Nearly 62 million tonnes of foodgrains will be required annually, while the government's total current food stocks (as on January 1, 2013) are about 66 million tonnes.
Ironing out last-mile hurdles in the bill, the government has decided to have a single category of beneficiaries, instead of two earlier. By switching to a single category, the government has addressed worries that, in its earlier form, the legislation was unwieldy, difficult to administer and a drag on public finances.
"The bill is unlikely to come in the upcoming Budget session, although it is nearly final," a senior official said, requesting anonymity.
Each entitled household will get 25 kg of rice, wheat or millets at Rs. 3, Rs. 2 and Rs. 1 a month, way below the market price. Parliament’s standing committee on food, expected to submit its recommendations next week, has broadly proposed a similar provisions, although these are non-binding.
While excluding about 33% of the people, who are assumed to be food secure, the bill provides for special entitlements for vulnerable segments, such as pregnant and single women.