Change in food security law lets govt raise prices

Several state governments had expressed reservations about this national oversight

Written by Ravish Tiwari | New Delhi | Published:March 15, 2013 2:06 am

Mindful of the fiscal challenge the national food security law is likely to bring,the government proposes to give itself the option of raising the price of foodgrains three years after the law is rolled out.

To ensure that the UPA’s showpiece welfare legislation is not grounded because of opposition from the states,the food ministry is set to drop the provision for setting up a National Food Commission as an appellate authority over the food commissions to be set up by the states.

Several state governments had expressed reservations about this national oversight.

As many as 71 amendments have been proposed in the National Food Security Bill which guarantees foodgrains at heavily subsidised prices to the poor. Keen to roll out the law in an election year,the government has convened a special meeting of the cabinet on Monday to clear the amendments.

The Bill is likely to be tabled in Parliament before it goes into a month-long recess. Food Minister K V Thomas is learnt to have met Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Thursday to seek her directions on the proposed changes.

With procurement prices rising every year,the flexibility to revise prices upward would give the government room to tackle the food subsidy bill which touched Rs 85,000 crore last year,and is expected to cross Rs 1 lakh crore after the food guarantee law is enacted.

The Bill currently provides for distribution of rice at Rs 3 per kg,wheat at Rs 2 and coarse grains at Re 1 per kg.

Recognizing the logistical difficulties involved,the government is learnt to be dropping Chapters III and IV,which provide for special food entitlements for the destitute,homeless or starving. The food ministry has also accepted the suggestion made by a parliamentary panel to do away with categorising beneficiaries into ‘general’ and ‘priority’ households (akin to APL and BPL),and to reduce the monthly foodgrain entitlement per person to 5 kg from 7 kg.

The ministry has,however,decided to create a special category for the poorest of the poor — identified under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana launched by the NDA government in 2000 — who will be entitled to 35 kg of foodgrains per family per month. Sources said the Congress leadership is also nudging the government towards providing family-wise food entitlements rather than the originally planned individual entitlements.

KEY CHANGES

ORIGINAL Bill said eligible households would get rice,wheat,coarse grain at Rs 3,2 and Re 1 repectively. Amended Bill says govt can revise prices ‘from time to time’ after 3 years of the law. But prices will not exceed minimum support price

CENTRE will have no power to direct states on the state-level grievance redressal mechanism. States will set up state food commissions to oversee implementation,but will have flexibility to assign task to any old or new statutory body

NO ‘general’ and ‘priority’ categories

CENTRE will decide percentage of population under Act in each state,but states will have freedom to identify the beneficiaries

PDS reforms no longer a pre-condition for implementing the scheme

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