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Pawar critical of supplying grains at lower rates

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In what could trigger another debate on the proposed Food Security Bill, Agriculture Minister on Wednesday said that selling grains and coarse cereals at dirt cheap rates as being proposed in the Bill could harm the country’s economic structure. Addressing mediamen at the annual Economic Editors’ conference, he said government should supply highly subsidised foodgrains only to “really needy people” else the country’s economy would be affected. He also favoured increase in the prices of foodgrains supplied via ration shops as he feared misuse.

Last month, the Food Ministry had circulated the draft for comments. The Bill proposes seven kilograms of rice, wheat or coarse cereals to every identified beneficiary under the priority category per month.

Rice will be sold at Rs 3 per kilogram, wheat at Rs 2 per kilogram and coarse cereals at Rs 1 per kilogram.

For general households, government will supply 3 kg of foodgrains at 50 per cent of minimum support price (MSP).

“Many have shared apprehensions with me on providing cereals at Rs 1 per kg (under the Act). If the government buys jowar at Rs 30 and sell cereals at Rs 1 per kg, I think it will affect the country's economy,” Pawar said. He added that sometime, one has to apply mind and see the repercussions. My suggestion is that you should go in for that (hike in price of ration supplies) and assess the repercussions. I don't want the Soviet Russia to happen in this country.

“The Act proposes to provide wheat at Rs 2 per kg. The acquisition cost of wheat is somewhat around Rs 16 per kg and the government subsidy would be Rs 14 per kg. The government should be careful that the grain is not misused,” Pawar said.

On the debate over shrinking availability of farm labour due to the social security programmes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA), Pawar said that government plans to launch a mega programme in the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17) for mechanisation of the farming sector, which would address the twin issues of farm labour shortage and also its impact on agriculture.

The minister also announced that an empowered group of minister is expected to meet tomorrow to discuss the overall export policy and prices of farm items such as sugar and onion.

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