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Cong-NCP upset over decision to reduce 1.25 cr beneficiaries

Ministers write to Chavan,Sonia Gandhi

Written by Shubhangi Khapre | Mumbai | Updated: April 8, 2014 3:49 pm

The elected members of the ruling Congress and NCP are unhappy with the state government’s decision to reduce the number of beneficiaries availing the current subsidised food grains under the public distribution system (PDS) of Maharashtra. The Cabinet ministers,MLAs and MPs of Congress and NCP have expressed their disappointment to Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan.

They have also written to AICC president Sonia Gandhi,expressing their disappointment with the state’s decision to enforce a difficult ration card regime ahead of the Parliament elections.

The Centre’s Food Security Act has facilitated the state government to downsize the beneficiaries by 1.25 crore,especially in urban areas and expand the benefits to rural Maharashtra. The MLAs,who are closely guarding their individual constituency,have written to Chavan not to tamper with the existing PDS system as any move to bring down the numbers will adversely effect them.

The minister for textile,Naseem Khan,told Chavan: “Notwithstanding the Centre’s guidelines,the state government should ensure maximum coverage of food allocation to both urban and rural areas.” He warned the government against withdrawing the concessional rate food grain allocation through ration cards to people in Mumbai and other urban cities across Maharashtra.

MPCC chief Manikrao Thakre has received complaints from MLAs across the state,voicing their concerns about the guidelines that are discriminatory and not practical. The voice of discontent has emerged from NCP ministers representing Pune,Mumbai and Nagpur. The Minister for Food and Civil Supplies,Anil Deshmukh,indicated that Central scheme helps them retain the food grain quota,which will cover 7.17 crore people. But the overall number of PDS beneficiaries across state will come down by 1.25 crore.

NCP MLA and chief spokesperson Nawab Mullik said,“I fail to understand how they intend to extend the Food Security Act to the poor. On the one hand,they say that the Act is to ensure food for all. On the other hand,they have stopped giving ration cards. So what is the purpose of food security?”

Mullik,who represents the Assembly constituency in Mumbai,said: “Those below poverty line and above poverty line live in rents or slums. They don’t have a permanent address,which makes it impossible for them to get a ration card. Now,how are they going to extend the new Act to such a segment?”

The elected members are also upset with the state’s decision to adhere to the Centre’s guidelines not to exceed subsidies beyond 75 per cent in rural and 50 per cent in urban areas. A senior minister of the Congress said: “If there is a village where 90 per cent are poor it will become mandatory for administration to stick to 75 per cent quota. Similarly,in urban areas it will have to mind the 50 per cent quota.” The ministers and MLAs fear the discrimination will create problems in villages and invite public wrath.

Officials in the CMO said,“The decision to strictly follow the Centre guidelines is to ensure that the state government does not have to bear the additional financial burden. If they decide to given more than 75 per cent quota,the cost will have to be borne by the state government.”

The state does not have funds for transportation and building infrastructure for food storage. The state will require almost Rs 800 crore for transportation of food grains and increasing storage infrastructure in the state. The present infrastructure for food allocation is also inadequate.

In Mumbai,where land is expensive,the government has decided to have mobile van services for food allocation. Deshmukh said,“They will have to strengthen the networks in rural areas too.”

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