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Centre asks states to boost procurement for Food Bill

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The Centre has asked five state governments, including West Bengal, to draw up an "action plan" to increase foodgrains procurement for successful implementation of the proposed .

The , which would be responsible for executing the welfare scheme spearheaded by UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, has decided to focus on ramping up procurement of wheat and rice to allay concerns over the availability of foodgrains to implement the proposed law.

The foodgrains requirement for implementation of the proposed Bill is estimated to increase to 61 million tonne from the current 55 million tonne required under the current (PDS) in order to give a legal right to cheaper foodgrains to 63.5% of the country's population.

In a letter written to West Bengal, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Assam and Jharkhand, Food Minister K V Thomas has asked these states to chalk out an "action plan" to not only step up foodgrains output, but also improve procurement.

"In order to meet the challenges of providing higher quantities of foodgrains upon implementation of the Food Security Act, efforts are specially required to increase productivity and procurement of wheat and rice in states which are deficit at present," Thomas said.

To address the reservations expressed by states like Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh over the Bill, the government is planning a meet with state food ministers in mid-February to bring them on board, sources said.

The Bill was tabled in the Lok Sabha in the Winter Session of Parliament and has been sent to the Standing Committee for scrutiny. The government aims to get it passed in the Budget Session to implement it from July 1.

Thomas said states such Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir should consider adoption of the decentralised procurement system (DCP), which was launched in 1997-98, for the benefit of farmers and consumers.

Under the DCP scheme, state governments procure, store and distribute foodgrains through their own agencies, but their expenses are borne by the central government.

About West Bengal, one of the top states for paddy production, Thomas said: "Compared to the potential, the paddy procurement in the state has not been very encouraging. It is already a DCP state for procurement. Hence, it is important that all requisite steps are taken to gear up procurement."

Thomas has asked these states to increase intermediary storage capacity in addition to expediting construction of godowns under the PEG scheme.

The central government reimburses 100% of the minimum support price (MSP), taxes and statutory levies and 95% of other incidentals to DCP states after distribution of foodgrains through the PDS.

The Bill seeks to cover up to 75% of the rural population and 50% of urban households and proposes the right to 7 kg of foodgrains per person, at Rs 3 per kg of rice, Rs 2 per kg of wheat and Rs 1 per kg of coarse grains, to the priority (BPL) beneficiaries.

General category (APL) beneficiaries will get at least 3 kg of rice and wheat per person per month at half the minimum support price (MSP) of the grains.

Agriculture Minister had raised concern over foodgrains availability and the high subsidy bill involved in implementation of this proposed law.

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