Unsettled BPL figure to delay Food Security Act

The Planning Commission has just completed studying the issue and it has approved the report of the Tendulkar committee on the number of people living below poverty line (BPL) at 37.2 per cent of the total population, against its own number of 27.5 per cent. This significantly increases the number of beneficiaries under the proposed Food Security Bill. From here, the issue will be studied by the Empowered group of ministers (EGoM). After EGoM whets it, the cabinet will look into it.

“Following this, the entire decision of the cabinet will be put on the food ministry website for public debate. This will be followed by a conference of chief ministers.

The suggestions emanating from these meetings and debates will once again be discussed before the Bill is finalised. Once the government okays the final draft Bill, it will be brought to Parliament”, a senior official in the food ministry told Deccan Herald  on Saturday. “Thus, we are not sure whether the Bill will be introduced even in the monsoon session,” he added. “In between, we have to watch how monsoon will behave. If monsoon is far less than normal, then we don’t know what will be the fate of the Bill because of its impact on procurement”.

Although the Plan panel has given its report, there is no finality about the number of BPL families. The states, which are putting the total BPL populace at 11 crore, will have to agree to this. Besides, there are other larger issues involved which the government will have to take into consideration before arriving at a decision.

As it is, the BPL beneficiaries number 6.52 crore and with Tendulkar report, it will jump to 8.14 crore. This number now locked, the government will have to fix the quantity — should it be 25 kg or 35 kg per family –– of the beneficiary. UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi is said to be in favour of 35 kg per family.

There is also the issue of an additional 2.52 crore poor who benefit from the Antyodaya Anna Yojana. Then the government will have to decide whether the beneficiaries should get edible oil, pulses, etc. Besides these, the issue of total quantum of financial allocation, the procurement capacity, etc will have to be factored in.

While at present 450 lakh tonne per year of foodgrain is required for BPL schemes, the government will also have to think of the reserve stock that should be kept as well as for the welfare schemes. The government will also have to think of the procurement of the food grain.

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