Food Security Bill: Punjabs 66% population in,34% out
With both the incumbent government and Opposition Congress promising to take the states populist blue card scheme of subsidised atta-dal to another level despite empty coffers,the upcoming Food Security Act may force a rethink.
While it will bring down Punjabs subsidy burden by taking the tally of Centres poor up,it will benefit only those the ongoing economic census identifies as poor. So,many of the undeserving beneficiaries enjoying largesse of the Parkash Singh Badal government may have to depend on the new regime to adopt them as its own.
The Draft National Food Security Bill received by the Punjab government from the Government of India has counted 66 per cent of states population in,leaving the remaining 34 per cent totally out. Earlier,the entire population of a state was covered under poorest of poor (Antodhya Anna Yojana),below poverty line (BPL) and above poverty line (APL) with the quantum of food subsidy decided in that order, said D S Grewal,Secretary (food and civil supply department) the executing agency for the scheme.
Under the proposed legislation,the beneficiary households have been divided into two categories priority and general. It stipulates that up to 75 per cent of the total population in rural areas is to be provided food security,46 per cent in priority and 54 per cent in general category. For Punjab,this translates to 1.2 crore people out of the total rural population of 1.7 crore as per provisional figures issued by the state Directorate of Census Operations. Of this,46 per cent (59.7 lakh) will qualify in the priority category entitled to 7 kg of foodgrain per person per month not exceeding Rs 3,2 or 1 per kg for rice/ wheat/ coarse grains,respectively.
The remaining 54 per cent (70.13 lakh) will fall in the general category entitled to 3 kg of foodgrains per person per month not exceeding 50 per cent of the minimum support price (MSP) for wheat and coarse grains.
In urban areas,it proposes to cover up to 50 per cent of the total population,which means 1.03 crore people will be covered under the two categories 28 per cent (14.5 lakh) as priority households and 72 per cent (37.39 lakh) as general. The remaining 34 per cent of the total rural and urban population (95.2 lakh) will be out of the ambit of the National Food Security Bill.
The number of beneficiary families has been decided by the Planning Commission by working out a cut off percentage. Earlier,the beneficiary families were identified by the National Survey on Household Income and Expenditure. Now,it will be decided by the ongoing socio-economic survey. Other than the inclusion and exclusion criteria,there are several other parameters devised by the commission to identify beneficiaries, said Principal Secretary (Planning) Satish Chandra.
Interestingly,while Punjabs atta-dal scheme kept adding more beneficiaries each year to reach the figure of over 15 lakh families by last year through random surveys and verifications by deputy commissioners,it had also adopted one-third of the Centres poor in the state as its own. Of the 4.67 lakh BPL families,nearly 1.76 lakh were also blue cardholders.
But Centre may not be as generous. Other than deciding on blue cardholders left out by the Centre,the state will also have to take a call on whether to further subsidise wheat from Rs 2 to Rs 1 per kg. The monthly requirement of wheat under the Act has been pegged at 84,258 metric tonne. Besides,continuity of what will remain to be states biggest liability on this count pulses at Rs 20 per kg.