“We have told the state governments that they have to complete the implementing of food Act by April 1, 2015 or else we will allocate grains for APL families to them at a rate which is aligned to the current minimum support price (MSP), which will obviously be higher than prevailing price,” Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan told reporters after chairing a meeting of state food secretaries.
At present, wheat is sold to APL families at the rate of Rs 6.10 per kg. If it is sold at MSP rates, then this price would become Rs 14.50 a kg, while rice is sold to APL families at Rs 8.30 a kg. But if it is sold at MSP rates then this price would be around Rs 13.60 a kg.
This is expected to further inflate the subsidy burden on state governments. According to government’s estimates, there are around 110 million APL families in the country, who get 11-25 kg of foodgrain a month.
The food Act, which was cleared by Parliament last year during the tenure of the United Progressive Alliance government, seeks to abolish the APL and below poverty line (BPL) criteria and uniformly provide 5 kg of wheat or rice to each identified beneficiary at a fixed rate of Rs 3 a kg for rice, Rs 2 a kg for wheat and Rs 1 a kg for coarse grains.
The act seeks to provide legal entitlement to around 64 per cent of the Indian population. Of this, 75 per cent should be in the urban areas, while 50 per cent in rural areas. The 25.2 million identified poorest of the poor families will continue to get 35 kg of foodgrain at the same price.
Since the Act was first implemented on July 4, 2014, just 11 of the 28 state governments have implemented the Act. The deadline for implementation was till July 4, 2015. The remaining states are still following the old pattern of antyodaya anna yojana, BPL and APL criteria.
The central government first extended the deadline for implementing the food Act by three months and thereafter by another six months.
Paswan said even in the 11 states where the Act has been implemented in the past one year there has been a lot of complaints over poor infrastructure, inadequate digitisation of ration cards, no door-to-door delivery of grains, etc.
“All these 11 states have to tighten up their delivery mechanism, complete digitisation of ration cards and seed them with Aadhaar numbers or else the Centre will consider the digitised list as being the only basis for allocation of grains from March 1, 2015 onwards,” said Food Secretary Sudhir Kumar.
Paswan said Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Goa, Kerala, Daman & Diu, Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Puducherry have agreed to complete the implementation of the programme by March 31, next year, while Jharkhand has sought exemption till June next and Odisha till August, which is being sympathetically considered by the government.
“We are willing to look at genuine grievances and give exceptions, but for all others the implementation has to be complete,” Paswan said.
States where the Act is already in force too has many problems. In Madhya Pradesh, just 60 per cent of the digitised ration cards are seeded with Aadhaar numbers, a pre-requisite for efficient delivery, in Rajasthan, the digitisation process has not even been started, though the state has implemented the Act almost a year-back. In Chhattisgarh, only 40 per cent of ration cards are seeded to Aadhaar.
“In the case of UP, the state has assured us that they will start implementing the Act in 64 of the 75 districts by March 2015 and we have agreed to that,” Paswan said.