A decision on the legal right of the poor to get wheat or rice at Rs 3 per kg was deferred today as Food and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar could not attend the meeting of a panel of ministers on the Food Security Bill on health grounds.
"We have deferred it (decision on Food Security Bill) till Sharad Pawar comes back," Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee told reporters after the meeting of the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) on Food.
Pawar underwent surgery in Mumbai on Wednesday for a mouth infection.
However, to fight rising food inflation, the EGoM decided to extend open market operations for sale of wheat by another three months till September 30.
"We are permitting open market sale scheme for wheat, which was to be operated till June 30. We have extended it to September 30 of this year," said Mukherjee, who heads the EGoM.
Under the scheme, the government sells wheat to bulk consumers and provides foodgrain to states for distribution in the retail market below the procurement cost. So far, the government has allocated 30 lakh tonnes under the scheme.
Driven by rising prices of essential items, food inflation is hovering at around 17 per cent.
The EGoM, meanwhile, decided to allow the export of 36,000 tonnes of non-basmati rice to Maldives, despite a ban on export of grains since April, 2008. The export of rice to Maldives has been allowed on diplomatic grounds.
"There was ban on rice exports. We have removed that only for Maldives and this has been done on the request of the Ministry of External Affairs", said Mukherjee.
The EGoM, which cleared the draft Food Security Bill in March, had to reconsider it after UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi wanted improvements with regard to monthly food supply and the number of beneficiaries.
The panel then asked the Planning Commission to provide firm estimates on the number of people living below the poverty line.
Talking to reporters, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, who is also a member of the EGoM, said the commission has accepted the numbers suggested by the Tendulkar Committee report on poverty estimates.
"This (the report) has gone from us to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO). Hopefully we will be announcing that very shortly," Ahluwalia said.
The number of BPL families will officially go up to 8.1 crore from 6.5 crore if the Tendulkar panel's report is accepted.