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Senior ministers clash over food security bill

delhi Updated: Aug 25, 2013 01:27 IST
Varghese K George
National Food Security Bill

The Cabinet meeting on Thursday that approved amendments to the National Food Security Bill (NFSB) witnessed heated exchanges as finance minister P Chidambaram expressed reservations regarding the additional cost of Rs 5,000 crore.

The amendment was finally approved after the Prime Minister said "let's bite the bullet," according to sources.

According to the allocations fixed by the earlier version of the NFSB, 13 states would have got more grain than they currently get, while 17 states would have got less than their current entitlements.

Collectively, these 17 states would have lost 3 million tonnes of grain, a situation that opposition parties wanted amended.

Parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath and food minister KV Thomas negotiated a settlement with the opposition that the NFSB would be amended to maintain existing allocations to these states. The extra 3 million tonnes would be priced at above poverty level rates, but would still require a subsidy of Rs 5,000 crore. In total, the amended NFSB will cost around Rs 1.27 lakh crore annually.

"Where will we get the money from?" the finance minister is understood to have asked his cabinet colleagues, when the note to effect the amendment came up on Thursday. Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar and commerce minister Anand Sharma supported Chidambaram.

Thomas, Nath and rural development minister Jairam Ramesh argued for amending the NFSB to prevent reduction in current levels of grain allocations to states. Thomas argued that the NFSB was a "political commitment of the Congress president," and could not be guided by economic arguments alone.

A usually reticent defence minister AK Antony intervened to assert that while the economic situation is indeed worrisome, the reduction in grain allocations to states would not be advisable.

3 bills passed in Lok Sabha
New Delhi: In a first full working day in Lok Sabha, three bills including one to provide secretariat staff to former governors throughout their lifetime was passed without any brouhaha.

The first bill to be passed was promising certain life of dignity to ex-governors by making the government pay for their certain secretarial staff. The governors are not entitled to any pension or post retirement benefits except medical facilities.

The other two bills to be approved were related to adding new castes in the list of scheduled castes and tribes in the list of scheduled tribes in certain states.