New Delhi: The government has decided to expand the scope of Food Bill to cover about 70 percent of the country's population under the ambitious programme to provide them legal right to highly subsidised foodgrains.
With the changes in the estimated Rs 1,19,000 crore programme, the coverage would be 90 percent of the population in the 250 poorest districts of the country.
The decision to make changes in the Bill and do away with complicated process of identifying the beneficiaries was taken at a meeting convened by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with his senior Cabinet colleagues, highly placed sources said.
The meeting was attended by Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, Home Minister P Chidambaram and Food Minister K V Thomas, among others.
Sources said Pawar raised questions about availability of foodgrains, large subsidy bill and storage problems.
However, Thomas explained that food subsidy would go up by Rs 19,000 crore and the grain requirement by two million tonnes, from the present level of 62 million tonnes, under the Public Distribution System (PDS).
The Congress Party had promised in 2009 general elections to bring a food law. The Food Security Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in December 2011 and was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee. The present bill covers about 63 percent of the population.
The Food Minister Thursday also briefed UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi about the changes to be incorporated in the Bill, the source said, adding that the government would find a mechanism to make changes.
In the present Bill, there are two categories of beneficiaries -- priority and general households. The changes will do away with this distinction as the government wants to implement the programme at the earliest.
Under the changes being proposed, each beneficiary would be entitled to get five kg foodgrains per month (rice at Rs 3; wheat at Rs 2 and millets at Rs 1 per kg) from ration shops.