Exuding confidence that it would be able to introduce the ambitious Food Security Bill in the Budget session of Parliament, the Centre has sought to take the states into confidence by protecting their foodgrain allotments in the proposed law. States had yesterday expressed concern if their annual quota would be cut.
In view of the divergent views expressed by the states on whether five kilograms of grains should be allocated to the poor or sevenkilograms, Food Minister K V Thomas said a final decision would be taken keeping the larger objective in mind. He was talking to reporters here on Thursday on the outcome of the consultation meeting of state food ministers.
Thomas said state-specific subsidised food distribution programmes, such as the one run in Chhattisgarh, will be fully provided by the Central government. The existing Antyodaya Anna Yojana will also be covered by the Bill, he said. “States have also suggested protection of current allocation of foodgrains. We are almost agreeable to this, subject to the Cabinet approval,” said Thomas.
On the widely-held notion that the Bill will lead to extra financial burden on states, the minister said it will, in fact, lower their financial obligation. “Under the Bill, states will be entitled to have foodgrains at a much lower rate than the existing price, which would lower their financial burden,” he explained.
Thomas said there was a broad consensus that the states should have the option to either pass on or absorb the incidental charges of handling and transportation of foodgrains to the beneficiaries.
The Centre has not yet finalised its views on providing legal right on the quantity of foodgrains, he added. “These are policy decisions and will be taken after discussion.”
The parliamentary standing committee has suggested single category classification with uniform entitlement of 5kg per person a month at a uniform rate of Rs 2/kg for wheat and Rs 3/kg for rice. However, the Centre has proposed 7kg per person to priority households and 3kg per person at half of the support price to general households.
On states' demand to leave the criteria for determining beneficiaries to them, Thomas said, "They will be given freedom."
He said states need to work out the procedure to determine which particular section of population is to be included and excluded under the Bill.
If implemented, the Bill is estimated to increase the food subsidy expenditure by Rs 20,000 crore to Rs 1.2 lakh crore. Foodgrains requirement will rise to 60-62 million tonnes, from the current level of 55 million tonnes.
The United Progressive Alliance government introduced the ambitious Food Security Bill, considered as the world's biggest welfare programme, in Parliament in December 2011.