Government to take states on board over food bill

Government to take states on board over food bill

Still nursing the sting of ally Trinamool Congress opposing the Lokpal Bill in the Rajya Sabha citing issues of federal autonomy, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government wants to take the states into confidence on Sonia Gandhi's dream project - the National Food Security Bill, 2011.

The bill was tabled in the Lok Sabha during the winter session of parliament last year and will now go to the standing committee concerned.

If the panel's report is submitted in the budget session, likely to start mid-March, the bill could be taken up for consideration and passage in the same session.

Keeping that in mind and the reservations of states like Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh against the bill, the government is planning a meet with state food ministers in mid-February to bring them on board.

"We have requested Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee to address the meet," a food ministry official said.

Sources said though the food ministry consulted the states before it tabled the bill in parliament, issues related to procurement of grain to meet the requirements of the bill would be taken up at the meet.

More importantly, the meet will focus on revamping the public distribution system (PDS), through which subsidised grains are given to around 6.5 crore poor families and 11.5 crore above poverty line households.

The bill seeks to cover up to 75 percent of the rural population and 50 percent of urban households and proposes the right to 7 kg food grain per person, at Rs.3 per kg for rice, Rs.2 per kg for wheat and Rs.1 per kg for coarse grains, to the priority (BPL) beneficiaries.

The general category (APL) beneficiaries will get at least 3 kg of ration per person per month at half the minimum support price (MSP) of grains.

Besides asking the central government to share cost of implementing the various schemes under the bill, the states are also demanding autonomy in deciding the number of beneficiaries.

At present, the central government fixes the quota of beneficiaries for each state.

The central government will also ask the states to take stern steps to reduce the number of bogus ration cards and ensure the grains reach only genuine beneficiaries.

Among the other issues to be raised are ways to plug leakages in the PDS by digitising the entire process.

Sources said these measures would help the government reduce its current food subsidy burden at Rs.63,000 crore, which is likely to go up substantially once the right to food law is implemented.