The flagship National Food Security Bill, which has been years in the making, is likely to be placed before Parliament in the forthcoming budget session, with a parliamentary panel approving it on Thursday and food minister KV Thomas opposing any further delay.
The bill, which stems from a Congress poll promise, is the second of two large entitlement-based welfare legislations of the UPA government. The previous one, a popular rural pay-for-work scheme, helped propel the Congress-led coalition to a second term, analysts say.
A senior official said the food ministry has flagged off its readiness for the draft law's inclusion in the budget session. It still needs a fresh Cabinet approval, a formality.
The bill provides for fixed monthly food handouts to 67% of the population — or about 800 million people — while in 250 poorest districts of the country, 90% of the people will be covered.When signed into law, the food bill will provide each member of an entitled household 5 kg of rice, wheat or millets at Rs. 3, Rs. 2 and Rs. 1 a kilo every month, way below the market price.
The bill will cost Rs. 1.12 lakh crore annually to implement. So, the government will have to increase its spending on food aid by more than a third, going by the current financial year's projected food subsidy bill of Rs. 92,493 crore.
A small price to pay, according to economist Jean Drèze, considering that India is home to the world's largest proportion of hunger-stricken children.
As is required under law-making, the Parliament's standing committee on food, a cross-party panel, vetted the bill and cleared it, paving the way for its adoption by Parliament.