The UPA government has decided to reject the Food Security Bill in its current form, just weeks before it was to become a law.
The proposed legislation, which was to be sent to the Cabinet for approval in the next few days before being taken to Parliament, has been withdrawn for a major overhaul, after it was found wanting by the Congress leadership.
<b1>The government has decided to refer the bill back on Monday to where it came from — the empowered group of ministers (EGoM) headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, which okayed it, sources said.
If the rural job guarantee law was the signature Congress legislation during the UPA’s first tenure (2004-2009), the proposed food security legislation is the flagship initiative of the present government.
In its present form, however, the bill has stoked widespread discontent among the right-to-food advocacy groups and the Congress party too, for paring down food entitlements from 35 kg to 25 kg.
“The Bill absolutely needs rework. It has reduced the notion of food right virtually to nothing,” Harsh Mander, Supreme Court-appointed commissioner on food security, told Hindustan Times.
Hemmed in by fiscal constraints, the legislation in its present form falls short of the original proposal approved by the Congress.
The party’s poll manifesto had promised a “right to food law that guarantees access to sufficient food for all, particularly the most vulnerable sections of society”.
According to sources, the Congress is keen to have four key points of the bill reworked, following the criticism these have attracted: the quota of ration proposed, the confusion over the number of India’s poor, the entitlements for highly vulnerable groups like the homeless and the issue of food coupons.
India has been unable to get a handle on the headcount of below-poverty-line (BPL) people, decided on the basis of a combination of 13 socio-economic parameters, including calorie intake and income.
According to the Suresh Tendulkar Committee, 37.2 per cent of Indians qualify as poor. According to the Planning Commission yardstick, which is being followed, it is 27.2 per cent. Yet another estimate from state governments puts the figure at 10.52 crore families or 45 per cent of all Indians.
The final draft glossed over key areas such as entitlements for destitutes, beggars, street children and the homeless. The final draft also kept enough legroom to increase the issue price of cheap grains from the current Rs 3 a kg.