The government has in principle decided to expand the coverage of population under the proposed Food Security Bill to include almost 70 per cent of Indians, who will have the legal right to cheap food, against the earlier proposal of 64 per cent of the same.
It will also end the below and above poverty line (BPL and APL) demarcation, prevailing in the current public distribution system (PDS). However, entitlements under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (for the poorest of the poor) would continue as in the current structure.
The proposed changes have been strongly opposed by a section of civil society on the grounds that it makes the Bill ‘minimalist and unacceptable’.
Officials said the enhanced coverage would also include almost 90 per cent of the population in 250 identified poor districts in the country. “We have in-principle agreed to expand the coverage of the proposed Bill and would now submit the same to the standing committee of Parliament, which is vetting an earlier draft,” a senior food ministry official said.
He said the decision to expand the coverage was taken at the high-level meeting on the Food Security Bill chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh yesterday, which has also been approved by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. The official also said though the Standing Committee of Parliament is vetting the bill, the final decision of the government will prevail. The changes are estimated to cost the exchequer Rs 119,000 crore annually, as against the earlier estimate of Rs 100,000 crore.
Each identified beneficiary would get 5 kg of grains per person per month against the earlier provision of 7 kg per person per month for BPL and 3-4 kg for APL families—rice at Rs 3; wheat at Rs 2 and millets at Rs 1 per kg—from ration shops. “Food entitlement to 13 poor states would continue as per the existing norms, along with the current targeted PDS," the official said.