Divergent views raise a question mark on the fate of the Food Security Bill

The Union government and the Planning Commission will take a decision on the new Below Poverty Line (BPL) cap only after a report is submitted by the Parliamentary Committee on the Food Security Bill and the completion of the Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC).

As things stand, divergent views have already surfaced raising a question mark on the fate of the Food Security Bill. Planning Commission member Abhijit Sen said “things are unclear” at the moment.

After rejecting the Tendulkar Committee cap on BPL, the Centre decided to set up a committee to take a fresh look at the issue in the wake of the heat generated over the exclusion of those with a daily expenditure of Rs. 32 in the urban areas and Rs. 26 in rural areas from the list of beneficiaries of its welfare schemes.

Union Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh set up a committee under Mr. Sen to look into the matter afresh and suggest the new cap on beneficiaries for welfare schemes, including the proposed legal food entitlement.

Mr. Sen however told The Hindu that it would be wrong to say that a committee had been set up and clarified that no real issue or terms of reference had been specified.

He made it clear that the exercise to decide the cap “is somewhat far away.”

While the SECC has made some progress, at least seven States have not even initiated the process of enumeration so far. Mr. Ramesh had to write to these Chief Ministers to initiate action at the earliest.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee too is not expected to submit its report in a hurry given the complex issues involved. Mr. Sen considered it very unlikely that the government would get the food bill passed in the monsoon session of Parliament.

It is very clear that both the Union government and the Planning Commission are retracing the path adopted in the case of the Lokpal Bill that eventually got stalled in the Rajya Sabha. The government wants all political parties to make their stand clear at the Parliamentary Standing Committee before taking a call.

Mr. Sen said it was necessary to get the full details of the SECC enumeration. His emphasis was on seeing how many people come under each of the deprivation criteria.

If the Bill has both the priority criteria, BPL, and general criteria, APL, and if the Tendulkar committee cap is not to be made applicable, then more information from SECC is necessary to get at a new figure, Mr. Sen stressed.

NAC member's letter

While the government and Planning Commission have disowned the Tendulkar committee recommendations, the former Planning Commission member and National Advisory Council member, N.C. Saxena, on Thursday wrote to the Planning Commission to stick to them as the proposals were time-honoured.

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