PDS no prerequisite for grain entitlement to general-category families.
The contours of the Food Security Bill are firming up, what with the proposed legislation now stipulating a monthly minimum of seven kilograms of grains per person for the country’s priority households. In fact, this category of families — with a pregnant woman, dependent children or a differently-abled member — will get even higher quota depending upon the availability, as per the recommendations of the National Advisory Council (NAC) that approved the draft three-and-a-half months ago.
With just 10 days left for its submission before the National Development Council (NDC), the Bill also proposes to simultaneously roll out legal entitlement for grains for both priority and general category households, whether or not the states have a modernised public distribution system (PDS). This is in contrast to the food ministry’s draft that insisted on a modernised PDS for general-category households to enjoy the provision, according to official sources.
The Bill now seeks to provide legal entitlement for grains to three-fourth of the country’s rural households, in place of what was “at least 90 per cent” in the original draft. For the urban category, the percentage guaranteed with subsidised foodgrain remains the same: 50.
As for the renewed quota of grains for the priority category, the NAC, led by ruling United Progressive Alliance UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, wants the families to be supplied rice at a Rs 3 a kg, wheat for Rs 2 and coarse cereals for Rs 1 a kg. Overall, the price will be half of the minimum support price for wheat and coarse grains, sources told Business Standard. Those under general category households will get a minimum three kilograms of grains per person per month. This can also be scaled upwards.
The Bill, which got the NAC’s nod on June 22, will have little space for cash transfer. The original “caps” for the number of priority and general category beneficiaries will continue be part of the final Bill — except in one area: the amount of foodgrains entitled for a person. So if the present Bill gives a maximum entitlement, this is being changed to a “minimum” entitlement, with there being no bar any quantity above it.
Gandhi is also believed to have put her foot down on any proposal to distribute cash in lieu of grains as and when the Bill comes into operation. “In principle,” said an official, “there will no cash distribution through the food Bill. It can happen only under special circumstances, which is a legal requirement to fulfill.”
All the changes are now expected to be part of final food Bill. October 22 will be when the NDC will start working on the Bill. After that, it is scheduled to go to the Cabinet and then tabled in Parliament during the coming winter session.
“The draft Bill,” the official said, “fixes the quantity of grains as the upper limit. Now this has been made flexible to ensure that more quantities of grains can be distributed to the needy if there is adequate stock.”
The proposed changes in the draft Bill were discussed last weekend during an interaction food minister K V Thomas had with Gandhi.
After the food security Bill is put into operation, the country will need to raise its annual grain procurement to around 61 million tonnes. At present the average annual grain procurement varies between 55 and 60 million tonnes.
Thomas on Wednesday said the Bill would provide a paradigm shift in approach towards the issue of food security. “It will be legal obligation on the government to deliver food entitlements,” he said during his address at a seminar here on Food Research and Production Systems. “To meet the increased demand for food, research and development needs to be intensified to ensure better yields from available farm lands,” the minister added.