A food security plan that economists, including Jean Dreze, suggested Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as a middle path between activists’ demand and what the government was offering might finally shape the much-expected Food Security Bill.
A document circulated among ministers and senior officials, based on Dreze’s
Plan B and now officially called by that name, indicates it could become a major input for the Bill. But what irks Dreze and his friends is that the government document is actually a watered-down version of the original Plan B.
The Plan B proposed by Dreze and other economists in a letter to the prime minister when the Food Security Bill was introduced in the Parliament had been greeted with a lot of criticism.
“The idea was to draw the attention to the possibility of a better framework—a framework that was simpler and better, irrespective of whether or not the government was willing to commit more resources” says Dreze.
However, the government’s move to tweak the original proposal has not gone down well with the activists.
”The purpose of Plan B was simply to point out that it’s futile and unnecessary to create separate priority and general categories even after excluding 25 per cent of the rural population and 50 per cent of the urban population. It was neither an endorsement of these exclusion ratios, nor a recommendation about what entitlements people should have,” Dreze told Business Standard.
The crux of Dreze’s proposal was that above poverty line (APL) and below poverty line (BPL) demarcations be merged so that errors of exclusion could be avoided and everyone with a card gets food grains. His suggestion was that each family under APL and BPL gets a uniform quantity of 25 or 30 kgs. This dilutes the Bill’s provision from its proposal to provide seven kgs of grains per person to five kgs.
The Right to Food campaign of which Dreze is a member, is up in arms against this plan to reduce entitlements. Left parties have already threatened an agitation on September 12, asking for 35 kgs for BPL and APL households.
Dreze in his plan had asked for a uniform exclusion of 25 per cent of population from the ambit of the Bill. The government decided to go further and make it 33 per cent. Another dilution proposed in the government version of Plan B against both the Bill and the Dreze Plan B is that no distinction is made between urban and rural. The original government bill, as well as the Dreze Plan B, differentiated between urban and rural when the exclusion rate was stated.
What upsets him more is the government has chosen to retain the name, Plan B, initially given by Dreze and economists to their plan. “We are not finding a forum to make known our views on such an important legislation,” he says.
Right to Food activists meanwhile are planning to take to streets on August 28 to press for universal PDS including food grains, pulses,and oil at seven kgs per person as proposed in the original Bill.