The food ministry has prepared a new food security bill, reworking an earlier version and reconciling what had been “promised to the people” by the ruling Congress and the government’s fiscal constraints, MoS for agriculture KV Thomas has told HT.
In August last year, the UPA government had pulled the plug on a previous draft, after it was found wanting by the Congress leadership.
The Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council, which oversees the government’s welfare agenda, had made a slew of recommendations, including keeping the country’s food distribution system open for all, regardless of poverty status.
Hemmed in by budgetary concerns, PM Manmohan Singh had asked his Economic Advisory Council (EAC), led by C Rangarajan, to find out the financial implications of the NAC’s recommendations.
Even though the EAC had suggested restricting cheap grains to priority households only, or those below the poverty line (BPL), the new bill provides for legal entitlement for both priority and general categories, which takes care of a key concern of the NAC.
Under the new bill, entitlements for BPL households are wholly in line with the NAC’s draft food bill, made public on Tuesday. All BPL households would be given 7 kg per person or 35 kg per family of government-held grains at a subsidised price of R1 a kg for millet, wheat for R2 a kg and rice for R3 a kg.
Those above the poverty line would get 3 kg of grains per person, though the NAC had recommended 5 kg per person. These would be available at half the price at which the government buys from farmers, also called minimum support price (MSP).
“We have tried to strike balance between the EAC’s budgetary concerns and NAC’s social concerns,” Thomas said.
The new bill provides for cash benefits to meet enhanced food requirements of pregnant women, who would get Rs 1,000 for first six months of pregnancy, and lactating women, as well as children up to 14 years.
The new requirements mean the government’s expenses on distributing cheap grains could rise from Rs 83,000 crore to Rs 1 lakh crore and it will have to procure 10 million more tonnes of foodgrains.