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Food Bill: Govt looking at flexible plan,may exclude 33% population

It has suggested to avoid confrontation with states regarding the idenitification of beneficiaries by giving states the freedom to “evolve their own criteria” for excluding the population.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday gave further momentum to an alternative proposal that seeks to replace rigid provisions in the National Food Security Bill with “liberal” options that will give greater flexibility to states while legally binding the Centre to a higher food subsidy burden than the estimates for the current Bill.

The meeting chaired by the PM on Wednesday was attended by Defence Minister A K Antony,Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar,Home Minister P Chidambaram,Food Minister K V Thomas,Deputy chairperson of Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia,Chairman of PM’s Economic Advisory Council C Rangarajan,among others.

The Food Ministry presentation on ‘Plan B’ for the Bill has suggested doing away with the rigid differentiation of ‘priority’ (similar to BPL families) and ‘general’ (similar to APL families) category of beneficiaries with different quantum of foodgrain entitlements at different prices. The existing provisions envisage that the BPL category would get 35 kg per family of five per month at highly subsidised rates,and the APL group will be entitled to 15 kg at relatively higher price. As a replacement,the ministry has suggested “uniform exclusion of 33 per cent” of population across the country from the benefits while treating rest 67 per cent of the total population as a “single category with similar entitlement of 5 kg per person per month”.

It has suggested to avoid confrontation with states regarding the idenitification of beneficiaries by giving states the freedom to “evolve their own criteria” for excluding the population.

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The ministry has outlined two potential options. The first option envisage uniform exclusion of 33 per cent across the states irrespective of their poverty levels. The second option is a “variable exclusion method” where the number of beneficiaries will vary across states,depending on the their prosperity levels,but aggregate of all states would ensure nationally 67 per cent of population getting covered.

The ministry has worked out a criteria of monthly per capita expenditure at Rs 1,215 in rural areas and Rs 1,502 in urban areas to determine the proportion for each states based on 2009-10 NSSO survey. This works out that persons spending less than Rs 40 in rural areas and Rs 50 in urban areas per day will be entitled for food guarantee under the alternative being considered now.

However,given the fact that Tamil Nadu,Andhra Pradesh,Chhattisgarh and Orissa have universal public distribution system,the ministry has suggested that the current allocation of foodgrains will not be cut for any state,and its calculations have suggested that the allocations of non-Congress ruled states like Bihar,Karnataka,Uttar Pradesh,Madhya Pradesh,Orissa and West Bengal will go up.

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The ministry has indicated that its revised proposal will add Rs 7,000 crore of additional food subsidy over and above Rs 1.11 lakh crore of legally binding food subsidy.

During the meeting Pawar was learnt to have highlighted his reservation regarding the larger issue of enhancing investment in the agriculture sector to meet these obligations. This was learnt to have been countered by Thomas.

First published on: 19-07-2012 at 02:05:11 am
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