<p>A day before the Congress’s ‘Chintan Shivir’, a Parliament Standing Committee on Thursday presented the much-awaited report on the Food Security Bill, giving legal entitlement of uniform five kg of foodgrains to 75 per cent of the country’s rural population and 50 per cent of the urban population without any distinction. The grains will be distributed at a flat rate of Rs 3 per kg for rice, Rs 2 for wheat and Rs 1 per kg for coarse cereals.
In total, 67 per cent of India’s population will be covered by the Food Bill if the Committee's recommendations are accepted as against the earlier draft bill, which suggested total coverage of 64 per cent of the population.
“The recommendations as and when they form part of the Bill, will ensure that more than half of the people in India would have a legal right to have at least five kilograms of foodgrains per month,” Vilas Muttemwar, Congress Member of Parliament from Nagpur and chairman of the Parliament Standing Committee on Food told reporters after submitting the report to Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar.
He said the number of people who will qualify for the entitlement will be determined on the basis of the ongoing socio-economic caste census (SECC). The recommendations will now be studied by the Union food ministry, following which changes will be incorporated in the draft and again placed before Parliament for clearance after the Cabinet approves the changes.
“There was near unanimity on the broad contents of the Bill, barring one note of dissent. We have ensured that the Bill is implemented within one-year of getting okay in Parliament,” Muttemwar told reporters.
The draft Food Security Bill tabled in Parliament last year had proposed providing cheap food to around 64 per cent of the Indian population, of which ‘priority’ sector (which was similar to the current below poverty line families) would get seven kilograms of foodgrains per person per month, while the ‘general’ category households would have got around three-four kilograms of foodgrains.
The priority category households would have grains at the rate of Rs 3 per kilogram for rice, Rs 2 per kilogram for wheat and Rs 1 per kilogram for coarse grains. For general’category households, foodgrains would have been distributed at a rate that’s at least 50 per cent of prevailing minimum support price of wheat or rice.
In the standing Committee’s recommendations, no such distinction has been made and all the classifications of above poverty line, below poverty line and beneficiaries of Antodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) has been done away with.
“Once the Bill is implemented, there will only be one distinction and that is poor and non-poor and all poor people will get uniform five kilograms of wheat or rice at a flat rate of Rs 3 per kg per person for rice, Rs 2 per kg person wheat and Rs 1 per kg per person coarse cereals,” said Muttemwar.
He said the Committee got lot of representations from members, political parties and also others to distribute seven kilograms or 11 kilograms of foodgrains, but given the limitation of farm production, it has decided to scale down the entitlement.
He said in the new recommendation around 56.80 million tonnes of foodgrains will be required for running the procurement, which include 48.80 million tonnes for the programme and another eight million tonnes for other schemes in which food is distributed like mid-day meal scheme, etc. “While in the earlier version, this requirement would have jumped to almost 76.32 million tonnes, which is not feasible,” said Muttemwar.
He added that with the average foodgrain procurement in the last five years being at 60.24 million, it would not have been possible to sustain the food security Bill with seven kilograms per person per month entitlement.
Muttemwar said the government’s annual food subsidy after the Bill is implemented in full would be rise to somewhere around Rs 92,499.84 crore, from the 2012-13 Budget estimate of Rs 75,000 crore.
“After you add the requirement of cheap food under other programmes like mid-day meal scheme, the total food subsidy requirement would increase to Rs 112,000 crore,” said Muttemwar.
He pointed out that the Committee has also said an additional five kilograms of foodgrains should be provided to pregnant women to meet their nutritional requirement. “We have also said that the introduction of cash in lieu of foodgrains at this juncture is not feasible, unless states develop banking infrastructure,” he added.
Any state that is distributing more than five kilograms of foodgrains per person, can continue to do so, but the Central government will bear the financial, logistical and other burden of just 5 kilograms of foodgrains, according to Muttemwar.
“Once the Bill is implemented, most poor persons in this country will have the right to at least five kilograms of foodgrains per month and can file a case through the appropriate grievance redressal mechanism if he or she does not receive their due share of grains,” Muttemwar said.
Those who are left out
The number of people who would be excluded from the Food Security Bill has caused concern in many state governments and civil society.
The Standing Committee report on the Food Security Bill has stuck to the National Advisory Council proposal to exclude 25 per cent in rural areas and 50 per cent in urban areas from the schemes under the Bill.
The Food Ministry had earlier proposed uniform exclusion of 33 per cent of population irrespective of rural and urban. This had raised concerns in larger and poorer states such as Uttar pradesh because it would mean a large chunks of their population would be excluded from the food security schemes.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav had even written to the ministry urging a rethink on the concept of uniform exclusion.
However, this would have benefited the smaller and well-to-do states, former NAC member Jean Dreze had said.
Speaking to Business Standard, economist Reetika Khera said that the uniform exclusion of 33 per cent was a nightmare. Even the 25 per cent is a bit high and could have been lowered to 20 per cent. Yet it would help smaller states to increase the number of beneficiaries under food schemes once the Bill is enforced, she said.