<p>Union food minister K V Thomas on Monday said a ‘Plan B’ was being prepared for getting the stuck Food Security Bill cleared, but would not explain what this consisted of.
The Bill, to provide subsidised grain to a majority of the population, is being examined by a standing committee of Parliament. Its passage has been delayed for a long because of several differences between ministries and policy makers.
Thomas said his ministry was discussing an alternative plan with the Planning Commission and the Prime Minister’s economic advisory panel, to reduce the differences among ministries and departments. He said he expected ‘Plan B’ to be ready in a week or two, to be then presented to the Prime Minister and then sent to the standing committee for hastening the process of getting the Bill cleared.
He said the alternative plan will consider the numbers below and above the poverty line and address all the relevant concerns, but would not divulge any more details.
The proposed Bill seeks to cover 75 per cent of the rural population and 50 per cent of the urban population in the country. Initial estimates suggest the annual food subsidy bill could be upwards of Rs 1 lakh crore. A minimum of 46 per cent of the rural population and 28 per cent of the urban population will get seven kg of foodgrain per month per person. Rice would be provided at Rs 3 a kg, wheat at Rs 2 and coarse grains at Rs 1 a kg.
Among the issues being debated are the subsidy burden, which has been rising steadily in recent years, with crop support prices having been doubled, while central issue prices for foodgrain have not. There is also the issue of procurement and storage.
Rajiv Agrawal, secretary, department of consumer affairs, recalled the food ministry had proposed a new law to regulate national spot commodity exchanges. Three such exchanges are presently operational.
The department is also to set up an advisory committee of all stakeholders, including farmers and even media personnel, to suggest improvements in the regulations for commodity futures. The committee will be formed within a couple of days.