Despite severe opposition from civil society groups, the Union government has decided to cut the entitlement of a beneficiary to subsidised grain from 7 kg a month (as provided in the National Food Security Bill) to 5 kg under the Public Distribution System, as recommended by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Food.
But it will continue providing the 2.3 crore beneficiaries of the Antyodaya Anna Yojna (the poorest of the poor) with 35 kg of grain a family a month.
Highly placed sources told The Hindu that the government would move 71 amendments to the bill when it came up for discussion in Parliament. The bill, which had been in the making for the last two years, was introduced in the Lok Sabha in December 2011 and referred to the standing committee in January last year. The bill will be placed in Parliament before it breaks for recess on March 22.
The amendments will come up for clearance at a Cabinet meeting scheduled for Monday.
As opposed to the demand by several Opposition-ruled States for a universal PDS system, the government has accepted the committee’s recommendation that 67 per cent of the population — 75 per cent in rural areas and 50 per cent in urban areas — be covered under the legislation, touted as a flagship programme of the UPA.
It has also agreed to do away with the ‘priority’ and ‘general’ categories of beneficiaries and replace them with a single ‘inclusion’ category, as suggested by the committee. The State governments will identify the beneficiaries on the basis of the criteria to be set by the Centre. A State that wishes to widen the coverage will have to bear the subsidy. The Centre will share with the States the cost of grain transport to ration shops rather than pass it on to consumers, as suggested by the committee.
The committee’s recommendation that the benefits be extended to only two children in the case of pregnant women — which the Left parties said amounted to a coercive ‘two-child norm’ — has not been accepted.
The government proposes to provide the beneficiaries with rice, wheat and millets at Rs. 3, Rs. 2 and Rs. 1 a kg respectively. The grain outgo is estimated at 62 million tonnes, involving a subsidy of more than Rs. 1.35 lakh crore. As against this, the total food subsidy budgeted for this year is Rs. 90,000 crore.
At present, a below poverty line beneficiary gets 7 kg of wheat at Rs. 4.15 or rice at Rs. 5.65 a month, while an above poverty line beneficiary gets 3 kg a month at half the minimum support price of the grain.