Food Bill likely in Budget session

Last Updated: Fri, Dec 21, 2012 04:30 hrs
To match Special Report INDIA-FOOD

Chances of the food security Bill becoming a law in the near future have dimmed with Parliament's standing committee on food not submitting its recommendations in the winter session, which ended on Thursday.

"There is no possibility of submitting the report in the winter session of Parliament, as all the evidences are not yet ready with us," Vilas Muttemwar, chairman of the committee, said.

The panel will definitely place its report in the Budget session of Parliament, he said. "We don't want the Food Security Bill to become another land Bill, where more than 100 amendments are suggested to the original draft, leading to paucity of time to discuss (in Parliament)," Muttemwar said.

The legislation is a important social security programme after the rural job guarantee scheme for the UPA.

"State governments have lots of concerns over the proposals made in the Bill, as some of them have universal public distribution system." Muttemwar said. "Also, we have received almost 150,000 petitions, all of which need careful analysis. Therefore the report is taking time."

Some experts said it is unclear how the mechanism of cash transfer of subsidies will be merged with the proposed Food Security Bill. The Bill favours distribution of cash in lieu of grain only if supplies of the latter fall short.

The Ministry of Food and Public Distribution, too, has suggested some critical changes in the draft food security Bill. According to the new plan suggested by the food ministry, almost 68 per cent of the population would be covered by the Bill. The earlier proposal had covered 64 per cent of the population, broken up as 75 per cent of rural and 50 per cent of urban households.

The coverage was proposed to be widened. But the new plan seeks to provide a uniform 25 kg of cheap grain (five kg per person a month) to all poor families, irrespective of whether they were below or above the poverty line.

In the original draft, below poverty line families - classified as priority category households - were to get seven kg of foodgrains a month, while above poverty line families - classified as general - were to get three-four kg.

Food Minister K V Thomas held several rounds of discussion with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia and others on the fresh set of proposals. Officials said the new plan has the approval of the Planning Commission and the finance ministry, too.

In the new plan, rice would be given uniformly at Rs 3 a kg, wheat at Rs 2 a kg and coarse cereals at Rs 1 a kg. In the earlier proposal, rice was to be given to priority sector households (BPL) at Rs 3 per kg, wheat at Rs 2 per kg and coarse cereals at Rs 1 per kg, while the same was proposed to be given to general category households (APL) at a price related to the minimum support price.

At present, targeted public distribution system (TPDS) provides subsidised grains to around 6.52 crore BPL beneficiaries and almost 11.05 crore APL families. Once the Bill is implemented, the country's average annual procurement will rise to 65 million tonnes against 60 million tonnes of grains now.

The new plan would, however, increase the food subsidy to around Rs 1,20,000 crore, up from the present estimates of Rs 1,10,000 crore annually. The new proposal of distributing fewer grains to a wider number of people would require around 62 million tonnes of grains every year as against the average procurement of 60 million tonnes now.

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