Pawar refuses to be drawn into food Bill controversy

Last Updated: Sat, Jan 15, 2011 18:40 hrs

Food and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar has declined to be dragged into the controversy surrounding the implementation of the food security Bill. The move assumes significance in the wake of the differences between Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC) and the Rangarajan committee. Pawar said his ministry was ready to implement the Bill according to the decision taken by the government.

On a visit to the state-of-the-art Gowardhan dairy at Manchar, Pawar told Business Standard, "My ministry is ready to implement the Bill. The Rangarajan committee has made some recommendations."

This is crucial as until recently he had been arguing against the implementation of the Bill without a substantial increase in the country’s agriculture production. He said India would require 65 million tonnes (MT) foodgrain if the government was to fully implement the law. Unless production and productivity was improved, it would be impossible to provide the additional foodgrain, he said.

The Rangarajan committee has favoured legal entitlement of subsidised foodgrain to below poverty line (BPL) consumers. However, it has rejected NAC’s recommendation that above poverty line (APL) households be partially covered too. The committee said this was not feasible at the prevailing levels of grain production and procurement.

NAC has recommended covering 75 per cent of the population in two phases — including 90 per cent of rural and 50 per cent of urban population. According to its proposal, 74 MT foodgrain would be required in the final phase in 2014, while grain availability with the government in 2011-12 and 2013-14 was likely to be 56.35 MT and 57.61 MT, respectively, going by the prevailing production and procurement trends.

However, the Rangarajan committee said the assured delivery of subsidised foodgrains be restricted those who needed it the most, the rest being covered through an executive order with varying quantum, depending upon the availability of foodgrain.

Meanwhile, Pawar admitted there was a case for increasing the prices of foodgrain provided to APL families. "The Supreme Court has directed the government over half-a-dozen times as the prices have not been revised since 2002. This is despite a rise in the procurement price of wheat to Rs 1,120 a quintal from Rs 500 a quintal. Also, the procurement price for rice has shot up to Rs 1,000 a quintal from Rs 490 a quintal."

He noted the government was considering increasing prices for APL famlies, but insisted they would continue to be below the procurement prices.

More from Sify: