Delhi and Haryana will roll out the food security scheme on August 20, Rajiv Gandhi’s birth anniversary, while Chief Ministers of 11 of the 12 remaining Congress-ruled States promised to follow suit “soon” at a meeting convened by Congress president Sonia Gandhi here on Saturday. (Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna could not leave his flood ravaged State to attend the meeting.)
Their assurance came after Ms. Gandhi — clearly in the driver’s seat again as election season approaches — asked her party Chief Ministers to expeditiously implement the food security scheme in “letter and spirit” so that “nobody sleeps hungry”.
Of course, even as the Chief Ministers assured the party leadership that they would do their best, a few general secretaries expressed their concerns over the poor condition of the Public Distribution System (PDS), even as they urged the Centre to make the provisions of the Essential Commodities Act more stringent to deter defaulters. One general secretary pointing out that the EC Act had been diluted during the NDA regime, making offences under the Act bailable, urged the government to reverse that change: the party, he said, should bring such a proposal to Parliament.
If Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh spoke about the problems of transporting foodgrains in the hilly terrain of his State, Mizoram Chief Minister Pu Lalthanhawla mentioned the financial constraints in his State as an impediment to the effective implementation of the scheme, party sources said. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh assured them that all such issues would be addressed.
To take the message of the food security programme that is being billed as a “game changer,” Congress communications chief Ajay Maken, who briefed journalists after the meeting, that was attended by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, all senior party functionaries including vice-president Rahul Gandhi and State chiefs, said party spokespersons will fan out across the country, starting Monday, to hold workshops on the food security issue for PCCs and address press conferences in all state headquarters.
While Renuka Chowdhury will hold the first press conference on Monday in Mumbai, Bhakta Charan Das, Sandeep Dikshit, Meem Afzal, chief spokesperson of Bihar Premchand Mishra, his counterpart in Maharashtra Mukesh Nayak and former IYC president Randeep Surjewala will be going to the other States.
If the text of the food security ordinance enjoins States to roll out the programme within six months, the Congress wants not just the foodgrains to reach the people, but also the message. Mr. Maken stressed that while State governments were empowered to define the criteria for identifying beneficiaries, the food subsidy that would flow from the Centre to them would now increase substantially.
Earlier, the Central subsidy ensured that the States could provide foodgrains to identified beneficiaries at Rs. 5 a kg — now the Centre will give an additional Rs. 2 subsidy per kg. In short, those States that provide foodgrains at Rs. 1 a kg, for instance, and were earlier providing Rs. 4 per kg from their own funds will have to fork out that much less. Of course, the Centre will provide subsidised foodgrains for only 67 per cent of the population — States giving a larger chunk of their populations subsidised foodgrains will have to continue to find the funding for the rest, as they have been doing thus far.
Answering a query by Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramiah, who had recently launched a scheme to provide rice at Rs. 1 kg, Union Food Minister K.V. Thomas assured him that after the scheme is in place, the States’ financial burden will would come down substantially as the Centre would provide them cheaper foodgrains.
This article has been corrected for a factual error.