In the first meeting on Friday of the experts group set up by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to examine the recommendations of the National Advisory Council (NAC) on the proposed National Food Security Bill, senior officials were asked to come up with firm calculations.

Chairman of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council C. Rangarajan, who heads the panel, asked senior officials of the Ministries of Food, Agriculture and Expenditure to work out various scenarios of the implications of the recommendations.

Members of the group, including Secretaries of the Ministries of Agriculture and Expenditure and Additional Secretary of Food, presented their views. The Planning Commission was represented by its Member-Secretary. Chief Economic Advisor to the Ministry of Finance Kaushik Basu was present. The meeting lasted two hours.

Speaking to The Hindu, Dr. Rangarajan said the group had a preliminary discussion on the implications of the NAC recommendations. “We will take a view in another meeting,” he said.

Asked whether the mandate of the experts group was to give suggestions on how to operationalise the recommendations or to examine whether they were implementable, he said, “Let's put it this way. It is to look at the implications. The Food and Agriculture Ministry representatives talked of the implications on food procurement and production. The Expenditure Secretary spoke about the financial implications.”

Dr. Rangarajan asked how the Food Ministry proposed to reform the Public Distribution System to plug leakages, whether it can procure the quantity of foodgrains required and about the increased investment in the agriculture sector for enhancing production to meet demand.

Meanwhile, at a conference on ‘Rural Prosperity Through Better Agriculture,' chaired by President Pratibha Patil, Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar said while the President had talked of giving 25 kg of subsidised foodgrains to all Below Poverty Line families, the NAC has recommended a “certain quantity.”

“The present procurement is between 50 and to 55 million tonnes and if we have to procure 65 million tonnes to fulfil the NAC requirements, then we will have to collectively work towards enhancing production, productivity and irrigation.

“Otherwise it will be difficult, as we have to meet the Public Distribution System requirement as well as set aside foodgrains for buffer norms, strategic reserves and open market sale scheme for market intervention when prices rise.”

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