Many states differ on provisions of Food Bill
New Delhi: In a setback to Food Security Bill, considered as the world's biggest welfare programme, many of the states on Wednesday differed on the quantity of subsidised grain to be supplied and the number of beneficiaries to be covered under the scheme.
The consultation meeting of state food ministers was organised here to evolve a consensus on recommendations of the Parliamentary panel that suggested drastic changes in the proposed Food Bill, which aims to give legal right over subsidised foodgrains to two-thirds of the population.
Tamil Nadu sought complete exemption from the implementation of the bill saying it lacked clarity, while states like Bihar, Orissa, Kerala, Punjab and Gujarat suggested the Centre first modernise Public Distribution System (PDS) before rushing to implement it.
Asked if lack of consensus on the Bill will delay Food bill, Union Food Minister K V Thomas said separately, "Except Tamil Nadu, all states have welcomed the bill. Some have expressed reservation on certain provisions. ...We cannot satisfy all states. We intend to present the revised bill in the forthcoming session of Parliament."
Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh pitched for universal public distribution system (PDS), whereas Orissa, Kerala and Bihar, among others, said the foodgrains quantity of 5 kg per person per month suggested by the Parliamentary panel was not sufficient and sought higher allocation.
Tamil Nadu Food Minister R Kamaraj said: "I insist that the government should exempt Tamil Nadu from implementation of the proposed Food Bill and allow the state to implement the existing universal PDS as it is more effective".
"The bill is replete with confusion and inaccuracy and there is no clarity on identification of beneficiaries".
The consultation meeting, attended by 19 states and UTs, saw many states suggesting identification of beneficiaries be left to them. They said it would be difficult to bear additional expenses of implementing the bill due to financial stress.
Many states also opposed cash transfer of subsidy saying it cannot be a substitute for foodgrains. Barring one state, most of them favoured providing nutritional security to pregnant women and children under the bill.
On beneficiaries, Bihar Food Minister Shyam Razak said, "The socio economic caste census (SECC) is yet to be completed. Meanwhile, BPL Commission should be set up to identify beneficiaries consulting respective states."
He also said the Centre should not be in a hurry to implement the bill without modernising PDS.
At the same time, Punjab Food Minister Adaish Pratap Singh emphasised exclusion criteria should be decided in consultation with state governments, while Orissa Food Minister Pratab Keshri Deb sought inclusion of tribal population without capping coverage of population.
Meanwhile, Gujarat Food Minister Bhupendrasinh Manubha said: "The Bill suffers from enormous uncertainties in terms of likely number of beneficiaries, requirement and availability of foodgrains on a sustainable basis."
At the beginning of consultation meeting, Union Food Minister K V Thomas had said that there are divergent views on certain provisions of the bill. The challenge is "to arrive at a workable, practical and equitable approach, keeping the larger objective of the bill in mind," he added.
Stating this is the last opportunity for consultation before finalising the Bill, Thomas said,"We need to finalise our views on these recommendations early, give a final shape to the Bill and present it back to Parliament for consideration and passage in the ensuing Budget session."
The views of the state governments are "extremely important" as "still there are certain aspects which need to be discussed before taking a final view."
According to the recommendation of a Parliamentary panel, all the beneficiaries, without categorising them as priority and general households, be given 5 kg of wheat and rice per month at a uniform rate of Rs 2 and Rs 3 per kg, respectively, under the proposed Food bill.
Whereas the Centre had proposed 7 kg foodgrains per person to priority households at cheaper rate and 3kg to general household at half of the support price.
At present, below poverty line (BPL) families effectively get 7 kg of wheat and rice at Rs 4.15 and Rs 5.65 per kg respectively per month.
If the Parliamentary panel's recommendations are accepted, it will benefit the general population in both price and quantity, while BPL members could get lesser quota than what was proposed in the original Bill.