UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi's intervention at the National Advisory Council (NAC) meeting on Monday summed up the dilemma of some panel members on the promise of food security to all.
The gist of Gandhi's intervention was, "How would a poor woman feel if a better off woman was paying the same amount and getting the same quantity of foodgrains as her".
The meeting could not reach a consensus on whether to confine food security only to the most needy, the below poverty line people or to universalise it.
Though some pitched for universalisation, others wondered whether the government has the huge quantities of foodgrains needed to service the promise of "food for all"— a position closer to the government's.
Before Gandhi left the meeting, the panel decided that the working group on food security, under Harsh Mandher, will have wider consultations, including with ministries like agriculture — whose minister Sharad Pawar is opposed to universal PDS — and put the bill on the website to solicit public opinion.
On the basis of such inputs, the NAC hopes to finalise the draft food bill at its next meeting on September 24 and send it to the government for consideration.
"Food security is billed as a legal right. So we have to be very clear on what we can promise and deliver," said sources, stressing the need for clarity on entitlements, pricing, time lines and the numbers involved while weaving midday meals, ICDS, community kitchens for destitutes and other schemes in the PDS programme.
On Monday, the NAC, in effect, revisited its July 14 agreement when it said that while time-bound universalisation of foodgrains may be desirable, starting next year it would be rolled out in one fourth of the most disadvantaged districts with households getting 35 kgs per month at R3 a kg. It also spoke of differentiated quantities and pricing for other groups.
Monday's deliberations were based on the Mandher's presentation.