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HindustanTimes Fri,25 Apr 2014
From famines to food security
Zia Haq, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, March 01, 2013
First Published: 01:35 IST(1/3/2013)
Last Updated: 02:23 IST(1/3/2013)

In 2009, when India faced its worst drought in three decades, the country managed to produce a million more tonne of foodgrains than it did in 2007, a normal year. That's both an achievement and a failure.

It's not enough to grow more food - as India has been able to do - but to distribute it well, which the country hasn't accomplished. The UPA's flagship food security bill aims to make food aid a legal right and the finance minister has pledged Rs. 10,000 crore towards rolling it out.

The food bill, which stems from a Congress poll promise, is the second of two large welfare legislations of the UPA government. The previous one, the popular rural jobs scheme NREGA, helped propel the Congress-led coalition to a second term, analysts say.

"Going by (what is) known and judging the future by (politics of) the past, the food law may help the Congress. But these things do not work every single time and to the same extent," said political analyst Inder Malhotra.

The food bill proposes monthly food handouts of 5kg for every entitled person, or 25kg for a family of five, the average size of an Indian family, potentially costing the government Rs. 20,000 crore more than current food aid expenses of Rs. 1 lakh crore.

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The bill has sparked fiscal anxiety, given the 4.8% target for bridging the expenditure-revenue gap. The food bill has been accused of being capable of doing all that the slowdown hasn't: break the back of an economy still up and running.

However, it has the powerful backing of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. The party is banking on the bill to boost its ratings ahead of a 2014 general election.

The very idea of cheap food for 67% of the population, or 800 million people, can cheer up voters.

The country has been able to sharply raise its grain output, helping avoid a scary "Malthusian world" of food production failing to keep pace with population. From about 50 million tonne in 1950-51, harvests are estimated to be 250 million tonne this year, a touch lower than last year's record 259 million tonne.

In 1943, the Bengal famine, after a missed monsoon, killed an estimated four million. "In the British period, drought was a word for famines," Planning Commission member Abhijit Sen said.

Though droughts no longer spell disasters, hunger in India is scary. The 2009 India Hunger Index found food-bowl Punjab ranking below Gabon and Honduras. No state showed "low-hunger" levels .

The economic survey has said that India needed to "reconsider traditional instruments" of food management to improve the situation.


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Highlights: Budget 2013  »

  • Expect higher revenue next year: Chidambaram
  • Unclear what the expense on food subsidies be at this stage: Chidambaram
  • Fuel subsidy likely to be lower this year: Chidambaram
  • Immediate goal is to achieve growth rate of 6%: Chidambaram
  • We have to be patient and wait for the economy to pick up: Chidambaram
  • We have not put impossible burdens on people: Chidambaram
  • The only way to contain current account deficit is to increase exports: Chidambaram
  • Confident that RBI will do it's part: Chidambaram
  • Economy is challenged in a number of ways: Chidambaram
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  • Budget has ignored SC/ST: Mayawati
  • Budget will only benefit industrialists, not common man: Mayawati
  • Budget will give impetus to Bihar's demand for special status: Nitish Kumar
  • FM has taken important steps to reverse pessimistic mood with regard to our economy: PM
  • There is need to convert challenges into opportunities: PM
  • The Finance Minister has done a commendable job: PM
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  • Luxury imported items to cost more
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  • No change in customs and excise duty
  • Tax credit of Rs. 2000 for those with income upto Rs. 5 lakh
  • Education cess at 3%
  • donations to be tax free
  • Surcharge of 10% on individuals, companies whose income is above Rs. 1 crore per year
  • No revision in tax slabs
  • Planned expenditure to be 33% of total expenditure
  • Rs. 1,000 crore allocated to women safety fund
  • Defence budget allocation increased to Rs. 2 lakh crore
  • Insurance and pension funds can now directly invest in debt funds
  • Domestic workers, Anganwadi workers, others to get group insurance
  • 13 public sector banks to get Rs. 14,000 crore
  • Propose to provide Rs. 14,000 cr for capital infusion in public sector banks
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  • JNNURM is being continued in the 12th Plan; Rs. 14,873 cr to be provided to the Mission
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  • Rs. 6000 crore for rural housing fund, Rs. 2000 cr for urban housing fund
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  • All towns having population of 10,000 to get LIC office
  • Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojna to be extended to rickshaw pullers and rag pickers
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  • India's first all-women public sector bank to be set up
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  • Person taking home loan for the first time to get tax cut of Rs. 1 lakh
  • Regulatory authority to be set up for road sector
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  • Rs. 25,000 cr to be raised through tax free bonds: Chidambaram
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  • Infrastructure debt fund to be encouraged: Chidambaram
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  • Rs. 41,000 allocated for scheduled caste welfare: Chidambaram
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  • Rs. 65,000 cr allocation for education schemes: Chidambaram
  • Rs. 110 cr to be allocated to department of disability: Chidambaram
  • Need $ 75 billion to bridge current account deficit: Chidambaram
  • 2013-14 budget has sub-plans for SC, ST, youth and women: Chidambaram
  • Foreign investment imperative for growth: Chidambaram
  • Our economy has slowed down after 2010: Chidambaram
  • No choice but to cut spendings to control inflation: Chidambaram
  • China and Indonesia are growing faster than India: Chidambaram
  • Getting back to 8% growth is a challenge for country: Chidambaram
  • Our goal is higher growth: Chidambaram
  • Between 2004-2008 and again in 2009-10, 2010-11 the growth rate was over 8%: Chidambaram
  • P Chidambaram begins budget address in Lok Sabha
  • Cabinet endorses Union Budget 2013-14, to be presented in Parliament shortly.
  • Finance minister P Chidambaram reaches North Block.
  • Chidambaram set to present India's 82nd national budget.
  • Today's Union Budget will be Chidambaram's eighth personal exercise.
  • It's two short of the record of 10 set by former PM Morarji Desai.
  • Since Independence, the country has seen a total of 25 ministers hold the finance portfolio.
  • India has also seen budgets - 65 normal annual budgets, 12 interim budgets and four mini-budgets.
  • Morarji Desai presented eight normal and two interim budgets.
  • Thursday will see Chidambaram equal the eight-budget track record of Pranab Mukherjee.
  • Chidambaram will surpass Yashwant Sinha, YB Chavan and CD Deshmukh who all presented seven budgets each.
  • PM Manmohan Singh and TT Krishnamachari have presented six budgets each.
  • Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi have presented one budget each.
  • Sensex closed up more than half a percent a day before the union budget 2013-14
  • It will be the eighth such personal exercise for him
  • Chidambaram set to present India's 82nd national budget in Lok Sabha

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