Challenging task

 The recommendations of the National Advisory Council for the National Food Security Act, made after much discussion and many revisions, cast the net wide to include 75 per cent of the country’s population within the purview of the scheme.It is the most ambitious  food entitlement scheme conceived anywhere in the world and the conceptual and implementation problems are very daunting. Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar has already expressed apprehensions about the workability of the plan. But the difficulties should not be a reason to undermine it. They must be taken as a challenge to be met. The new plan does away with the BPL-APL categories and proposes two groups — priority and general.

The food entitlements for the categories are different as the prices also are. The plan is to supply 25-35 kg of food grains per month at prices ranging from Rs 2 per kg to Rs 6 per kg, depending on the categories, to 16 crore families, or a population of about 80 crore.

Procurement of the requisite quantity of food grains, estimated at about 68 million tonnes at the present population level, will be the first major problem. This is about one-third of the total production in the country and at present government agencies procure only one-fifth of it. The agencies will have to enhance their capacities and  transportation facilities will have be made much more efficient.

Stocking and warehousing of the grains is the next challenge. Even as it is a good part of the grains rot in godowns. Delivery will present most serious hurdle. The creaky public distribution system will be unable to do the job.

It is estimated that about 65 per cent of the food grains in the PDS does not reach the intended beneficiaries.  Proposals like issuing food coupons which the beneficiaries can use to buy grains from retail shops, cash transfers or use of biometric cards are being discussed. Identification of the targeted population also will be a major task. The delivery system will in future have to be tied to the unique identity cards.

The plan is to launch the scheme from the next fiscal on a trial basis in 150 districts. Agricultural production in the country will have to be increased to cater to the increasing demand. The total subsidy burden will also go up. All these are major challenges and to tackle them much time, Herculean efforts and a lot of political will are needed.

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