The government is likely to accept the demand to keep the country’s food distribution system open for all and not just the poor, when the National Advisory Council (NAC) starts crucial negotiations with five ministries on the proposed food security legislation on Friday.
The government would, however, want different price bands for cheaper grains for different sections, depending on their income. So the better-off will have to pay more than the very poor.
<b1>The NAC is a panel led by UPA chief Sonia Gandhi to steer welfare policies of the UPA government. Food experts on the Gandhi-led advisory panel will negotiate with the secretaries of the ministries of food, health, women and child welfare, rural development and HRD to bargain for more concessions in the proposed food law.
Gandhi is likely to chair a meeting on July 1 to finalise the recommendations for a top ministerial body assigned the task of reworking the draft Bill.
On April 2, the UPA had withdrawn the Food Security Bill after it was found wanting by the Congress leadership.
The Bill had stoked discontent for paring down entitlements and restricting cheap grains only for poorest of the poor.
The council’s members will push for broader coverage, especially for those who cannot earn, and also for a wider food basket, including not just wheat and rice, but also pulses and millets.
The NAC will also negotiate for sanitation and water availability to be weaved into the food law. Whether the law should have a provision to raise the “issue price” or the price of cheap grains would be another critical negotiation area.
The council will also discuss the Planning Commission’s proposal for switching to smart-card system for disbursal of food, linked to the Unique Identification Project. “There will be some give and take. But a food security law has to be meaningful,” an official said.
Hemmed in by fiscal constraints, the draft law fell short of the original proposals of the Congress.