Food law likely to be delayed
Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar has said he fully supports the proposed food security legislation, but without the right strategies, it could cook up a food fiasco in the long-term. Zia Haq reports.delhi Updated: Jul 30, 2011 01:09 IST
Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar has said he fully supports the proposed food security legislation, but without the right strategies, it could cook up a food fiasco in the long-term.
Pawar’s concerns — his ministry is responsible for ensuring farm output is enough to keep the legislation going — could put off the draft food security bill until the winter Parliament session, sources said.
Even as the food ministry’s draft legislation makes generous food allowances for various income groups — from middle-income households down to the poor — Pawar said sustaining the food programme, the world’s largest, could be a challenge without adequate safeguards.
“We need to understand that sustaining the food security legislation in the long-term will require massive investments. The costs of the implementing the programme work out to Rs 100,000 crore. We will need at least 25% of that much as investment in agriculture,” Pawar said.
He said the current stocks were sufficient to meet requirements under the proposed food law, but alternate strategies would be needed so that the government doesn’t default.
Pawar had flagged off some of these concerns in a recent letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Farm output is prone to seasonal swings and India’s dodgy monsoon, the only source of irrigation for 60% of cropped areas, remains a top concern. “We need to take into account that monsoon is erratic,” Pawar said.
A missed or below-normal monsoon is known to trim India’s farm production substantially. The government could pare down some entitlements or bring in more provisions to provide cash instead of food. “We currently provide just wheat and rice. Henceforth, we will be required to provide other nutritional cereals too,” he said.
Among the bill’s major provisions, the government will hand out subsidized food to 75% of rural and 50% of India’s urban households.
The food ministry had prepared a new food security bill, reworking an earlier version and reconciling what had been “promised to the people” by the ruling Congress and the government’s fiscal constraints.