The upcoming food security bill will make it binding on the government to push agricultural reforms, the first instance of reforms in a key sector of the economy being mandated by law.
The final draft bill, viewed by Hindustan Times, provides for “agrarian reforms through measures for securing interests of small and marginal farmers” in Schedule III. The exact nature of the reforms, however, would be determined from time to time.
The bill was cleared on Thur-sday for releasing it to the Cab-inet, as required under law-making and is listed for tabling in Parliament in the winter session.
According to an official calculation, the government may have to spend up to Rs 3.5 lakh crore annually on the food and agriculture sector annually to see these reforms through. This figure includes a subsidy bill of approximately R95,000 crore a year towards food handouts for 75% of the population under the proposed food security law.
Officials overseeing creation of the bill said guaranteeing food security also called for, under the same law, provisions for revival of the farm sector. Not having such a legal caveat could endanger the sustainability of the food security Act in the long run, sources said.
Food minister KV Thomas, therefore, decided to devote a whole clause of the upcoming bill to “revitalisation of agriculture” through reforms.
The bill also makes it binding for the government to increase farm productivity and production. It mandates railways to accord top priority to food movement over other goods.
Agricultural reforms have largely been sidestepped by successive political parties and governments, who tend to treat the farm sector as a source of votes, not growth. Despite two-thirds of Indians depending on farm income, factory output has contributed more than farm output to the country’s GDP.
Therefore, the food security bill, which promises substantial food entitlements at a huge cost to the exchequer, seeks to simultaneously spur investment in agriculture.