President gives assent to food ordinance

President gives assent to food ordinance

President Pranab Mukherjee on Friday promulgated an ordinance on food security, even as the Centre tried to allay apprehension of different state governments that the scheme will put an additional burden on them.

The main financial implication of the ordinance would be on food subsidy. At the proposed coverage and entitlement, the total estimated annual foodgrain requirement is 612.3 lakh tonne and the corresponding estimated food subsidy, at the 2013-14 costs, is about Rs 1,24,747 crore, the Ministry of Food and Public distribution said.

The ordinance, which seeks to benefit about two-third of the country’s 1.2 billion population, has left it on the states to identify the beneficiaries and fix their own criteria within 180 days of the commencement of the process.

“This period may, however, differ from state to state and if any state is ready to implement it early, they will be encouraged to do so,” the ministry stated in a note. When compared to the estimated food subsidy requirement under the existing targeted public distribution system and other welfare schemes, the additional food subsidy will cost about Rs 23,800 crore per annum. “This additional burden will be borne completely by the Centre,” the ministry said.

According to the ordinance, the state governments will get financial assistance from the Centre to meet their expenditure.

It includes expenditure on transportation of foodgrain “within the state,” its handling and fair price shop dealers’ margin “as per norms to be devised for this purpose.”

They will also have flexibility to either set up a separate grievance redress mechanism or use the existing machinery.  The Centre has incorporated these provisions in the ordinance, taking into consideration recommendations of a parliamentary standing committee.

The Centre left it on the states to identify the beneficiaries keeping in view the diverse socio-economic conditions. It was also felt that any criteria evolved by the Central government for the country as a whole may not properly reflect these diversities and, therefore, invite criticism. 

“It was also difficult to evolve a consensus with the state governments over the issue of the criteria to be adopted,” the ministry said.

The Congress termed the food security legislation as a “game changer” and justified the government’s decision to bring the ordinance, maintaining that the opposition parties left no other option before the government as they had blocked the passage of the Bill in Parliament.

"This may be a life saver, life changer for many people. Delay, even by a single minute or day, God knows how many lives it could cost," Congress general secretary and party’s communication department chief Ajay Maken told reporters at a joint press conference
with Food and Public Distribution Minister K V Thomas.

Thomas said the government was ready as far as procurement and supply of foodgrain were concerned.

Total annual requirement of foodgrain, including grain required for other welfare schemes, was estimated to be 612.3 lakh tonne. Procurement of foodgrain (wheat and rice), both in absolute quantity and in terms of percentage of production, has improved in recent years, he said.

“The average annual procurement, which was 382.2 lakh tonne during 2000-2001 to 2006-07 has gone up to 602.4 lakh tonne during 2007-08 to 2011-12. It will therefore be possible to meet the requirement at the current levels of production and procurement of foodgrain,” he added.

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