New Delhi: Government Monday rejected the Opposition demand for universalisation of the PDS, stating cheap foodgrains to all families would mean unsustainable annual food subsidy, which was presently Rs 65,000-70,000 crore.
"If we universalise the public distribution system (PDS), the government will have to procure 70 million tonnes, which has never been done. It never went beyond 54 million tonnes," Food and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar said in the Rajya Sabha. This year the government has almost procured 54 million tonnes, which is a record.
Replying to a discussion on the working of his ministry, Pawar said food subsidy which used to be Rs 18,000-Rs 19,000 crore has gone up to Rs 70,000 crore.
"The demand is that we should not raise the issue price (at ration shops) for the APL (Above Poverty Line) families, but cover them under universalisation of the PDS...where will the subsidy come from," he asked.
APL families are getting ration supplies at the 2002 price, whereas the minimum support price at which the government procures the grain from farmers has almost doubled
since then, the minister said.
The Left and other Opposition parties have been demanding that both BPL (Below Poverty Line) and APL be treated at par and be given equal quantity of foodgrains at equal subsidy.
Since 1998, under the targeted PDS, while BPL families are given 35 kgs per month of rice or wheat at a much lower price, APL families get 10-15 kgs at the price which is almost equivalent to the rates government pays to the farmers.
About the much talked about Right to Food Security Bill, under which the BPL families would get fixed quantity of wheat or rice at Rs 3 per kg, Pawar said the Centre would take states would into confidence, before putting it in the public domain.
"They (states) have full responsibility in this regard," he said, adding the Planning Commission has also to come up on the exact number of the BPL families. "Government will go by the Planning Commission figures," he said, adding once the ground work is done, the government would bring the bill.
On suggestions of providing cash rather than foodgrains to BPL families to plug the leakages, the minister said it was debatable whether the desired results could be achieved.
"Whether the money given to the poor would be spent on foodgrains or elsewhere....this is something to be thought about," he said.
The supply of foodgrains through smart cards is being tried through pilot projects in two-three states. "We are ready to implement it throughout the country, if the experiment succeeds," he said.