While the UPA is showcasing cash transfers as a key initiative and has even made a provision for it in the National Food Security Bill (NFSB), there is a strong resistance to it.
Major Opposition parties are moving amendments against cash transfers, food coupons and cash allowances in lieu of food even as the law is to come up for approval.
So far, Delhi and Bihar are keen on providing cash transfers in lieu of foodgrains despite vociferous protests from civil society groups.
But the demand for removal of cash transfers and food coupons is a common point in the medley of amendments to the Bill that various non-UPA political parties have moved.
The Janata Dal (United), the Samajwadi Party and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam are among the 10 parties which have moved the amendments.
The others which are seeking major changes include the BJP, CPI (M), CPI, RSP, BJD, Akali Dal and AIADMK.
The demands range from imposing a 10-year moratorium on subsidised price at which rice, wheat and coarse cereals will be sold to eligible beneficiaries to annual upgrading of identified beneficiaries. It is a big “no-no” to cash transfers or food coupons in lieu of foodgrains under the NFSB. And, members even want SMS complaints to be entertained.
Many have pointed out the lacunae in not addressing the issue of incomes of farmers, on whom lies the responsibility of producing enough grain to cater for 67 per cent of the population. Some have sought punitive measure for “destruction [rotting] of foodgrains” and almost everyone has sought the inclusion of pulses and cooking oil in the basket. Food subsidy under the Bill is estimated at Rs. 1.24 lakh crore.
The demand for a universal public distribution system (PDS) is a common point in the nearly 200 amendments moved. Several parties seem to have drawn on the demands of the Right to Food Campaign, which has been fighting and pushing for a rights-based, universal PDS.
Moving the bulk of the amendments, the CPI (M) has sought a hike in entitlements to 7 kg per person per month and a daily free meal for the destitute, while opposing cash transfers, food coupons and food allowances. According to the party, the guidelines for identification and cost-sharing must be framed with the agreement of the State government.
The BJP wants all priority households to be covered under the Act. The party wants the removal of the provisions for food security allowance, food coupons and cash transfers in lieu of grains, and removal of ready-to-eat meals. It wants maternal benefits to extend to every woman, from those employed with the government to the homeless and the destitute. The MSP to farmers, the BJP said, must be 50 per cent higher than the average cost of production, and has asked for the introduction of a complete food supply chain management scheme, as in Chhattisgarh.
The Janata Dal (United), which is expected to side with the government if it comes to a vote on the Bill, has moved that a person from the SC/ST/OBC communities and five with a rural background should be on the State food commission. It wants the provision on revitalisation of agriculture to be amended to give farmers better incomes.
The Samajwadi Party, meanwhile, has suggested free distribution of 8 kg of foodgrains, including pulses, per person per month and sought coverage of 80 per cent rural population and 75 per cent urban population, as against 75 per cent rural and 50 per cent urban population proposed in the Bill.
The AIADMK has moved for a universal PDS and a freehand in identification of beneficiaries. Tamil Nadu already has a subsidised universal PDS. The DMK too has sought an amendment so that those with a universal PDS need not shift to the targeted PDS, and asked for the quantum of foodgrains allocation to the States to be maintained.
The Akali Dal has moved for removal of cash transfers in lieu of foodgrains and the inclusion of one kg of pulses per person per month at Rs. 20 per kg. In addition to others, the BJD wants food security for senior citizens and students in hostels.
Besides other amendments such as removal of cash transfers, the CPI has said reforms in targeted PDS should be for converting it into a universal PDS with inclusion of pulses.
The RSP has moved amendments for inclusion of pulses and cooking oil along with cereals and said that the value of food security allowance should be on the basis of retail market value of the foodgrains. It also wants cash transfers provision to go.
The government will not move any amendment. The Bill is expected to be taken up next week in the Lok Sabha for discussion.
Keywords: cash transfer, Food Security Bill, public distribution system, univeral PDS, National Food Security Bill, major opposition parties, parliament session, monsoon session, Right to Food Campaign