The Sonia Gandhi-headed National Advisory Council (NAC) has proposed subsidised foodgrains to 75% Indians (about 900 million) in phases, beginning next April, in a draft of the National Food Security Bill.
Jean Dreze, a socio-economist and NAC member, described the proposals as “disappointing” as they had failed to incorporate many elements of food security. “The NAC proposals are a great victory for the government,” Dreze said in his dissent note, accusing the council of succumbing to government pressure.
Abolishing the below poverty line criteria, the NAC has suggested two broad categories — priority and general —enabling 90% of the rural population and 50% of urban population to get subsdised foodgrains by 2014, when India’s population is estimated to be around 1.2 billion. The first phase will cover 85% of the rural and 40% of urban population from next April.
The formulation was approved after taking views of Planning Commission and ministries of women and child development, food and urban development and poverty alleviation. The final decision will be taken on basis of a note to be prepared by the food ministry.
As per the recommendations, a family in the priority sector would get up to 35 kg of foodgrains (or seven kg per person) per month with a subsidised price of R3 for rice, R2 for wheat and R1 for millet.
The general category family would be entitled to get up to 20 kg of food grains (or four kg per person) per month at a price not exceeding 50 per cent of the maximum support price. This will mean a kg of rice will cost R7.75 and wheat R5.50.
“The NAC-approved formulation is very clumsy and unwieldy,” said Biraj Pathnaik, principal advisor to the office of SC-appointed food commissioners. Food commissioners NC Saxena and Harsh Mander are also members of the NAC. Pathnaik and Dreze said the recommendation does not include child development services and old age pensions.
Narendra Jhadav, a NAC member, described the decision as historic and said council had provided “broad parameters” for the new law to cover over 75% of the population. The NAC, however, left the decision to differentiate between priority and general category and method of disbursement of subsdised foodgrains to the government.