Congress president Sonia Gandhi has conveyed to food minister KV Thomas that the proposed food security law ought to come closest to what has been “promised to the people” and asked him to move speedily on it, sources have told HT.
Thomas’s brief is to explore all “options” for a food security law that will closely reflect proposals of the Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC) — a non-binding but influential panel that oversees the government’s pro-poor agenda.
Hemmed in by fiscal constraints, the government would not be able to implement NAC recommendations on the food legislation, a study ordered by PM Manmohan Singh had stated last week.
Gandhi, who consulted Thomas on the issue before he was assigned full-fledged charge of the ministry, fears a food security law not in line with Congress’s assurance made during the last election would hurt the party’s standing.
In Thomas, the Congress high command has one of its own trusted men leading the food ministry for the first time since its coalition was voted to power in 2004.
“A food security legislation in accordance with assurances made to the people is top priority,” Thomas told HT.
A food security law — which in effect means universally distributing subsidised grains — is expected to be the signature welfare scheme of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance’s current term.
Thomas has an uphill task of reconciling the priorities of a financially cautious government and his party’s promise of food for all.
Gandhi has also asked Thomas to manage rising food prices urgently. “We have to start with perishables (fruits and vegetables) first,” Thomas said.
The NAC had recommended cheap state-owned grains for both “priority” and “general” households, covering 72% of India’s population in the first phase (2011-12) and 75% in the next (2013-14). “It will not be possible to implement NAC recommended food entitlements for either of the phases,” the expert committee, led by C Rangarajan, who heads the PM’s Economic Advisory Council, had said in its evaluation report.