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NAC clears food security Bill draft

The Bill aims at granting every person the right of access to sufficient and safe food either directly or by purchase.

The Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council Wednesday approved the draft of the Food Security Bill “entirely as was proposed by the Working Group on the subject”. The Bill aims at granting every person the right of access to sufficient and safe food either directly or by purchase.

Harsh Mander,convenor of the working group of NAC on food security,told The Indian Express,“The draft has been approved in its entirety in today’s meeting. We shall now send it to the government to take a final call.”

Terming the proposed bill as “a historic and a great step forward for an economy like India which has a growth of 8-9 per cent,” Mander said it will make India one among few countries where a duty is cast upon the state by way of a legislation to ensure that none goes hungry in that country.

The draft Bill,which was presented by Mander,has been vetted by government’s own law officer,Indira Jaising,before NAC gave its final touches.

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The draft — even though an expert panel appointed by Prime Minister objected to granting almost universal legal entitlements of foodgrain — sticks to its position that “not less than 90 per cent of all rural households” and “ not less than 50 per cent of all urban households” will be legally entitled to subsidized foodgrain.

The Bill draft categorises two types of households as eligible for discounted grain — “priority households” which are below the poverty line (BPL); and “general households” which consist of Lower Middle Class families.

According to the Bill,priority households are entitled to 35 kilos per month of foodgrain at the rate of Rs 3 per kg of rice,Rs 2 per kg of wheat,and Re 1 per kg of millets. General households would have the right to 20 kg at a price not exceeding 50 per cent of the Minimum Support Price paid to farmers for the respective foodgrain.

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The Bill has also stood by the legal backing given to the PDS system,with extensively dealing with aspects like procurement,storage and distribution through Fair Price Shops as the only approach for implementing the provisions of food security.

It also envisaged setting up of a seven-member National Food Commission,to be headed by a sitting or a former Supreme Court judge and similar State Commissions to be presided by a High Court judge.

While legalising PDS,the proposed legislation has made it mandatory for the government to maintain “financial viability of Fair Price Shops” by ensuring “FPS are financially viable by ensuring that reasonable commissions,salaries for the manager are provided in a time bound manner”.

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With NAC finalising the draft bill,the ball is now in the government’s court which would have a difficult task of choosing from this and the one prepared by the Food Ministry.

Economist Jean Dreze quits NAC

Economist Jean Dreze has resigned from the National Advisory Council. Dreze didn’t respond to calls from The Indian Express but sources close to the developments said he had expressed a wish to be relieved so that he could spend more time on “other commitments,” including his work on the NREGA and a book project.

It’s a matter of public record that Dreze has been highly critical of the Government. In a piece he wrote for The Hindu in January (The Notional Advisory Council?),he said: “The second version of the National Advisory Council…does not seem to have the ear of the government.”

The Government had rejected his demand to link NREGS wages to the Minimum Wages Act. On the draft Food Security Bill — that was sent to the Government by the NAC today — Dreze also expressed several reservations against the NAC version itself calling it a compromise.

Last October,when the NAC finalised the contours of the Bill,Dreze had said: “The NAC seems to have failed in its basic purpose of imparting a new vision to social policy in India.”

First published on: 23-06-2011 at 01:26:10 am
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