‘Fears of unsustainability of food scheme unfounded`
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Last Updated: Wednesday, December 21, 2011, 18:35
  
New Delhi: After steering the ambitious Food Security Bill through the Cabinet, Food Minister K V Thomas says fears about unsustainability of the subsidised foodgrains scheme are unfounded.

He also feels there will be no shortage of foodgrains for the scheme at least for the next 30 years.

Denying that the Food Bill has been brought in a hurry in view of the coming assembly elections in five states, he said the legislation is "well conceived" and was drafted after two-and-a-half years of meticulous exercise.

On apprehensions raised by Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and others regarding the financial implication and sustainability of the scheme, Thomas told PTI "the issue was discussed at least nine times in the EGoM (Empowered Group of Ministers) before finalisation of the draft".

He refuted charges that the Bill has been rushed through with an eye on the forthcoming assembly elections, that included the most populous state Uttar Pradesh.

Thomas said the proposed legislation was part of UPA election manifesto during the 2009 polls and President Pratibha Patil had also made a mention of it during her address to the joint session of Parliament in June 2009.

"The proposed legislation aims at ensuring food security for the poor in the rural and urban areas and imputing any political motive to it is not justified," Thomas said.

The Food Bill has been prepared following all set norms and after wide consultations within the central government, all state governments, NGOs and people from cross section of the society, he added.

The Union Cabinet had on Sunday approved the National Food Security Bill, 2011, considered a pet project of Congress President Sonia Gandhi. It aims at giving legal entitlement of cheaper foodgrains to 63.5 per cent of the country's population.

In rural areas, up to 75 per cent of the people will be covered by the Bill out of which at least 46 per cent will be in priority sector. In the urban centres, it will cover up to 50 per cent of the populace out of which at least 28 per cent will be in the priority sector.

Thomas provided details of the scheme considered as flagship project of the UPA government after NREGA, to allay fears of a section of population.

On whether there would be enough foodgrains available to sustain the scheme, Thomas answered in the affirmative. He said as per present calculations, the scheme would need 63 million tonnes of foodgrains which could be easily achieved considering the foodgrains output projections given by the Union Agriculture ministry for the next 30 years (till 2039-40).

The Food Minister said as per the projections, the country would produce over 187 million tonnes of wheat and rice in 2011-12 (crop year July-June). This is expected to go up to 189.9 million tonnes in 2012-13, 192.02 million tonnes in 2013-14 and 253.24 million tonnes in 2039-40.

The scheme aims at procuring around 30 per cent of the foodgrains produced which would be not a problem in view of the official foodgrains production figures, he said.

"There would be no need to go shopping for the rice and wheat in the international markets to feed the scheme," the minister asserted.

Besides, the government has allocated an additional Rs 400 crore to promote paddy cultivation in the Eastern states, he said. On storage capacity, the minister said the country has warehousing facilities to accommodate 63 million tonnes at present.

Another 7 million tonnes additional storage capacity would be available with the government by the end of this year, he said adding by end of 2012 another 8 million tonnes potential would be created.

Besides, the Planning Commission has approved building silos to store 2 million tonnes of foodgrains.

"So, by 2015, the country would have storage capacity of 82 million tonnes of foodgrains," Thomas said.

The Food minister said following corrective steps storage losses of foodgrains has come down to less than 1 per cent in 2011-12 as compared to 2.5 per cent about 5 years ago. Thomas said to ensure success of the scheme, the Public Distribution System (PDS) is being improved through programmes such as point-to-point computerisation and continuous campaign to delete bogus ration cards.

PTI


First Published: Wednesday, December 21, 2011, 18:35


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