Revised food bill will have wider reach
The bill was truncated from the NAC version at the first stage when the government finalized it and then the parliamentary standing committee went along similar lines and recommended further paring down of the benefits. Sources said concerns were raised by the Congress leadership about reducing existing benefits under the Antodaya Anna Yojana to the 2.5 crore poorest families as well as the recommendation of the standing committee to remove the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) from the mandate of the bill, which was advised by the women and child development ministry. Sources said the party leadership was unhappy with the move to reduce existing entitlements under UPA's flagship scheme instead of providing larger benefits. The government is likely to revise the bill keeping these views in mind and look at a much higher coverage in at least the 250 poorest districts of the country. The standing committee had recommended providing 5 kg of rations per person to 75% of rural population and 50% of urban India - a formula the government was happy with till the party leadership intervened. The standing committee had recommended doing away with two categories of beneficiaries with differential benefits - a move the government had contemplated anyway after having sent the bill to Parliament. But curtailing the total number of beneficiaries and reducing the benefits to the poorest has not found acceptance with the party leadership, sources said. The government could now consider restoring the monthly allocation to the poorest back to 35 kg of rations per family. Under an apex court order, the poorest and most disadvantaged are provided 35 kg rations at present. With the party keen to see the bill in Parliament during the budget session, a revised version could see the ICDS scheme coming back under the purview of the bill as a legally guaranteed right along with other food delivery mechanisms such as community kitchens. The UPA has already been caught on the back foot with opposition-ruled states providing cheaper rations to greater numbers under their own schemes following the lead of Chhattisgarh. The delay in pushing the bill through, coupled with the constant and often publicly expressed differences between different arms of the government and the UPA on the shape of the legislation have taken the sheen off UPA-2's big ticket scheme Food Security Bill is affordable
The subsidies meant for the poor are always under attack, while the rest are able to retain their privileges. The additional allocation in grain and money terms will neither distort the grain market nor place a burden on the fisc. Many recent commentators have portrayed the National Food Security Bill (NFSB) as an “unbearable burden” on the exchequer. The facts, however, do no substantiate the claim. The NFSB has been trashed from time to time in the English dailies. For instance, Business Line (March 21, 2013) published an article titled “Food Security Bill will torpedo Budget”. Another national daily claims that the Bill has a “fundamental flaw” that places “an unbearable burden” and “distorts agriculture” (Indian Express, March 19, 2013). Quite often, the claims are partly due to a misconception that the government is making new financial and grain commitments under the NFSB. In fact, the NFSB does little more than turning into legal entitlements pre-existing food security schemes such as the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme, Mid-Day Meal (MDM) Scheme, Public Distribution System (PDS) and maternity entitlements. UNJUSTIFIED FEARS
Some commentators have said that it is precisely the legal commitment that will lead to problems in the future — for example, the fear of the emergence of a government monopoly in the grain market. This fear is not borne out by the facts. Under the PDS, ICDS and MDM, the government currently allocates about 58 million tonnes of grain. To meet this commitment, the...
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