The much anticipated National Food Security Bill, a signature social safety legislation, is likely to be overhauled yet again and tuned up, as the government attempts to simplify its administration, navigate hurdles and yet aims to widen the coverage further.
The government is likely to do away two categories of beneficiaries, replacing it with one, a change that will address a major concern that, in its current form, the legislation is unwieldy.The decision on who would qualify for cheap grains would be left for states to decide.
Eliminating the Above Poverty Line (APL) category will give the government more financial legroom. Therefore, the government plans to widen the coverage from the proposed 63.5% of the population to about 65%. Food minister KV Thomas has said that the financial burden would not be “unusually big”.
According to projections, India’s expenses on food handouts will likely rise by 2.2%, much lower than analysts have projected, Thomas said.
The food minister held a meeting with officials from the Prime Minister Office on Tuesday, where he is understood to have discussed the final estimates of the food security bill’s cost analysis.
India currently spends Rs 60,572 crore for an existing food supply programme under the Targeted Public Distribution System for the needy. Food handouts are currently pegged to the 1993-94 poverty estimates and in line with population figures of the 2000 census.
Since the government will have to apply the 2011 census and updated poverty estimates, currently being finalised, for all future entitlements, the food subsidy would have risen to Rs 1,09,795 crore even without the food security law, the minister said.
To cover 63.5% of the population, or about 800 million Indians, the government would have had to spend nearly Rs 1,12,205 crore.