Acting on Sonia’s recommendations, government to bring in key official amendments to Food Security Bill

The government has decided to bring in key amendments to the National Food Security Bill, removing provisions for cash transfer and role of contractors and manufacturers in the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS).

The decision, which came on the recommendation of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, found support from the Opposition. The move comes even as the government re-evaluates need to go for repromulgation of the food ordinance if the impasse in the monsoon session continues.

Besides removing the cash transfer and contractor provisions, the government will legally secure the existing level of subsidised grain allocations for the States that are already drawing a higher level. The Ministry of Women and Child Development was pushing for the controversial clause. But on Tuesday, sources in the government said, the decision was taken at the highest level in the government and conveyed to the Food Ministry.

The government will now move an official amendment removing the Schedule where nutritional standards, mandating energy-dense fortified foods, were set for the ICDS, and instead mandate hot-cooked food for beneficiaries. The provision that allowed the States to give cash in lieu of grains if they so wished will also be removed, sources told The Hindu.

In order to assuage States such as Tamil Nadu, an amendment will be brought in to protect the existing levels of allocations of subsidised grains. Several States that have in the past been successfully taking higher level of central allocations of subsidised grains under the APL, BPL and AAY categories will be guaranteed these under law and not just as a commitment that the government made as a policy decision.

The third key amendment will give the States one year to implement the bill. The sources in the government said this was done keeping in mind the slow pace of finalising the Socio-Economic Caste Census, which would throw up a new list of beneficiaries. The delay in the roll out of the SECC, coupled with the reimposition of a centrally mandated State-wise cap on number of beneficiaries, has threatened to import some of the weaknesses of the existing targeted PDS in to the proposed NFSB as well.

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