The government will redraft the food security bill on the recommendations of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi to widen its reach, particularly among special populations. Some original provisions that had been pared down due to financial concerns are back on the menu.
The recast is aimed at a food-guaranteeing legislation closely in line with the ruling Congress’s assurances in its 2009 manifesto, but stretching its boundaries could cost the government in excess of Rs. 1,00,000 crore annually in subsidies.
Several existing provisions are being upgraded to simply fit more people in. A new proposal to extend maternity handouts too poor women in cash alone would cost Rs. 12,000 a year.
Confirming the changes, food minister KV Thomas said: “There are major changes but they are essential for a meaningful food security law.”
The food ministry, which has already held inter-ministerial consultations on the changes, will insert the new provisions immediately so that a draft could be brought before the Cabinet soon.
The reworked bill will contain “destitute” as a new class of beneficiaries, who will get free food from community kitchens. Identifying such people, who tend to hop locations, could be a key challenge.
The government proposes to identify 46% of all Indians who will make up a priority class for highly subsidised foodgrains. Aside from the “priority” category, the food law will also cater to a “general category”, comprising 28% of the population. Sahariya Part I | Sahariya Part II | Sahariya Part III | Sahariya Part IV
The previous draft restricted benefits for the “general category” to only some better-managed states with modernised food distribution networks to avoid frittering away food to wasteful practices. Benefits for the general category will now be available in all states.
The previous version also provided for cash handouts of Rs. 6,000 for pregnant and lactating women in only 52 districts. This will now be extended to the entire country.
The new bill will also fund more nutritious school meals for children below 14 years. Currently, all school-going children get a free basic meal under a national programme.