In yet another example of ingenuity of the Parkash Singh Badal government in hijacking central schemes, the state wants to procure its own wheat and supply it fresh to beneficiaries of the UPA's ambitious Food Security Act (FSA) in "made in Punjab" bags.
Punjab food and civil supply minister Adesh Partap Singh Kairon has made this demand in a demi-official letter written to union food minister KV Thomas ahead of the two-day meeting of the state food and civil supplies departments that started in New Delhi on Monday to deliberate on the new Act.
What's more, the wheat will be priced below the Centre's Rs. 2 a kg and will come to 33 lakh priority households with wholesome dal. "We have demanded that the state be allowed to procure 8 lakh metric tonnes of wheat for families to be covered under the Act and store it in specially earmarked godowns. Unlike the Food Corporation of India, which evacuates older stocks first from the state, we have demanded that Punjab being a wheat producing and procuring state, should be allowed to lift wheat for its one-year requirement and supply that year's fresh wheat to beneficiaries in 5kg or 10 kg packets," DS Grewal, secretary, Punjab food and civil supply department, said after the meeting.
To counter the UPA's Act, chief minister Badal has already announced to double the number of "poor" under the poll-winning atta-dal scheme. Though a fresh survey will be conducted by the deputy commissioners, the new "poor" thus dug out will be made to match the Centre's priority 33 lakh households under the Food Security Act as the criteria for identifying beneficiaries has been left to the states.
While Punjab will dovetail its own atta-dal scheme with the Centre's, it will also make it more appealing by offering the families cheaper wheat -- the state is working out the possibility of supplying it at Re 1 per kg. With wheat burden off its shoulders to a large extent, all these families would also be entitled to the same entitlement of dal, 2.5 kg per household or 500 grams per member at Rs. 20 per kg. It is another matter that the state has defaulted in footing the dal bills since December last year and could resume the supply only in July this year.
Kairon, who will be attending the ministers' meet on Tuesday, will also raise his other demands, including payment of the food subsidy six months in advance to "rule out" later contentions over reimbursements. The state has also demanded higher margin for fair price shops. "Under the FSA, the fair price shops will incur higher transportation and administrative costs.
We have demanded that the margin of the fair price shops should be according to minimum wages prescribed by the state government. Different states have given different figures, we have worked out that Rs. 1.5 per kg should be borne by the Centre to cover transportation, administrative and margin to fair price shops," Grewal added.
Since the new law has done away with the concept of below poverty line, another issue raised by many states is whether the priority households will be entitled to kerosene and sugar. Earlier, the BPL households along with poorest-of-the-poor families covered under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) were also entitled to subsidised kerosene and sugar.
Taken together, there were 4.68 lakh AAY and BPL families in Punjab accounting for 8.5% of the population. Under FSA, the figure of priority households has jumped to 33 lakh - 51% -- which is beyond the halfway mark of the state's population.