UPA successfully carried its ambitious food security bill through the Rajya Sabha on Monday, paving the way for a right to cheap wheat, rice and coarse grains for 67% of India’s population.
With the Lok Sabha passing it last week, the bill now has to go through just one formality: the President’s assent.
The food entitlement for 82-crore people will be a major poll plank for the UPA, but has also raised fears of a widening fiscal deficit.
Earlier, Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley called the bill a mere “repackaging” – even adding that the quantum of allocation for BPL families was being reduced — Sitaram Yechury of the CPM demanded universal coverage and not just for 67 % people.
In his reply, Food Minister KV Thomas defended the allocation limit of R25 kg per family for categories other than antyodaya, who would still get 35 kgs of food grains. He said that even till now states were giving lower quantum to include more people. “Only 32-crore families were included till now; we have made it 82-crore,” Thomas said.
Replying to claims that many opposition states had better schemes, Thomas pointed out that charged with procurement, storage and provision of grains to states, the Centre’s subsidy component was higher than states.
On Left’s demand for universal coverage, Thomas said the Centre could not procure beyond a point without adversely affecting prices in the market.
Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley on Monday said the bill is offering lesser food at costlier prices. “This bill should appropriately be called The Repackaging of Existing Food Schemes Bill”, Jailtely contended.
He said all existing food schemes provide for subsidy this year upto R113,000 crores. “The Minister has informed the Rajya Sabha on 23rd August 2013 that after the food bill, the subsidy will increase to R125,000 crores. The much touted food bill will thus increase the subsidy by only R12,000 crores”, Jaitley said.
“Are we expanding the right? Are we increasing outlay? The answer is no. For BPL we are reducing the quantum (from 35 kgs a family to 5 kgs a person, meaning about 25 kgs per family). It is just a repackaging,” Jaitley said.
He questioned the hurry of the government in bringing the food security ordinance, when Parliament was to meet in a month’s time.