Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday approved the final draft food security bill. The bill, when passed, will provide cheaper foodgrain to 75% of the population, or 900 million Indians.
This is much higher than what a PM-appointed panel recommended, but is lower than the 90% coverage sought by the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC).
To cover 90% of the population under a food law, the Centre will have to buy out over 35% of the country's total foodgrain produced. This could spark shortages in the open market and push up prices, food minister KV Thomas said. At present, the Centre procures about 30%.
The PM, food minister Thomas and the plan panel deputy chief Montek Singh Ahluwalia discussed the draft for over three hours. It is now being released to various ministries for feedback, as is required under law-making.Thomas, however, said the bill could still undergo changes if required.
The food ministry was awaiting the PM's opinion on whether the bill should be held back until a new headcount of India’s below-poverty-line (BPL) population is completed. Singh suggested the food security bill should not be delayed till the new BPL census concludes, but should be based on latest poverty estimates.
Passage of the food bill could provide respite to the Centre from the current bout of criticism over mal-administration. On Wednesday, speaking to editors, the PM had said: “There are several drafts within our government — but it is my hope that we will have a workable draft of the food security bill.”
The food ministry prepared the new food security bill after reworking an earlier version to reconcile what had been “promised to the people” by the ruling Congress in its manifesto and the Centre’s fiscal constraints.