Food security Bill to see more delay as panel tenure ends

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Financial Express, September 24, 2012

The government is unlikely to take up the National Food Security Bill in the winter season of Parliament as the panel examining the proposed law had to be reconstituted as its tenure had lapsed.

The National Food Security Bill, 2011, which was introduced in the Lok Sabha by food minister KV Thomas in the winter session last year, was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee chaired by Vilas Muttemwar for approval.

The Bill envisages giving legal rights to highly subsidised grain to 63% of country?s population. The parliamentary panel discussed the proposed legislation many times but could not finalise its report.

?We need to reconstitute the parliamentary panel as its tenure lapsed last month,? Thomas told FE. Thomas said Congress Lok Sabh MP from Nagpur, Muttemwar, would continue to chair the panel, while new members have to be inducted into the new panel.

The Speaker of the Lok Sabha would shortly announce the names of new members. Official sources said the panel could not finalise its report due to ?lack of consensus? on basic elements. Under the proposed legislation, the government had sought to divide the targeted population under ?priority? and ?general? categories, where rice, wheat and coarse grains would be distributed at R3, R2 and R1 per kg, respectively.

The government is now considering proposals to remove categories, such as priority and general, altogether, as demanded by experts, including development economists John Dreze and Planning Commission member Abhijit Sen.

Experts have suggested giving uniform legal entitlement of at least 25 kg of grain to 67% of the country’s population at a fixed rate of R3/kg rice, R2/kg wheat and R1 per kg of millet. The food Bill, on the other hand, proposes 35 kg of grain to priority households (BPL families) and a minimum 15 kg for general households (APL families).

At present, under the Targeted Public Distribution System, around 180 million households ? 65 million BPL and 115 million above poverty line (APL) category families ? get subsidised rations of 35 kg per month per family through the fair-price shops.

Besides, the government would not able to roll out the food Bill as the socio-economic caste census 2011 is yet to be finalised by the rural development and urban development ministries.

Meanwhile, many states have already gone ahead and implemented schemes similar to this, although without legal entitlement.

Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Rajasthan and Kerala have expanded the traditional Public Distribution System (PDS) to include people who are not below the poverty line under schemes for guaranteed supply of food under highly subsidised rates.

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