Food Security Bill to be delayed

Food Security Bill to be delayed

Panel has 200,000 suggestions to go through; Nominal hike in subsidy estimated

The National Food Security Bill is unlikely to turn into a law anytime soon, as the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution received about 200,000 suggestions on the much-debated proposed legislation and would need considerable time to go through them.

The ruling Congress has been keen to get the NFSB passed by Parliament at the earliest, as it relies on the bill to give a boost to its sagging fortunes ahead of the Parliamentary polls in 2014.

But with the Parliamentary panel likely to take more time to study the bill, it may not turn into a law before the winter session of Parliament in November or December this year.

Presenting the Union Budget in the Lok Sabha on Friday, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee proposed to commit the government to provide the additional subsidy that would be required once Parliament passes the NFSB, which is believed to be close to Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s heart.

The bill seeks to give 75 per cent of rural population and 50 per cent of people in urban areas legal entitlement to highly subsidised foodgrain. It was introduced on December 22 last and was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution.

The NFSB has been at the centre of an intense debate ever since it was conceived, particularly on the extent of the food security net it seeks to spread and the hike in the government’s subsidy bill it would result in.

Sources told Deccan Herald that the parliamentary panel had received close to 200,000 suggestions on the bill from the state governments, non-government organisations, intelligentsia and individuals from across the country.

Though the panel had three meetings on January 23, February 22 and March 2 last, it would require much more time to go through the suggestions.

The NFSB is expected to substantially raise the subsidy bill of the government. But Mukherjee’s Budget proposed just a 2.9 per cent hike in the food subsidy bill, pegging it at Rs 75,000 crore for 2012-13, as against the revised estimates of Rs 72,823 crore for 2011-12.

Not before winter session

Explaining the proposal for nominal hike in the estimated subsidy bill for 2012-13, officials in the Ministry of Finance said that the National Food Security Act might not come into force before the winter session of Parliament suggesting that the budgeted amount would be enough to meet the additional expenses as much of the financial year would pass by then.

According to the NFSB, 46 per cent of the rural beneficiaries of the National Food Security Act will be designated as priority households and the rest as general.
In urban areas, 28 per cent of the beneficiaries will be tagged as priority households and the remaining as general.

The bill seeks to provide the priority households in both rural and urban areas with seven kilograms of foodgrains per person per month and the general households with not less than three kilograms of foodgrains per person per month.

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