63.5% of country's population entitled to cheaper foodgrains

The much-awaited National Food Security Bill, 2011, which makes cheaper foodgrains a legal entitlement to 63.5 per cent of the country's population, was tabled in the Lok Sabha on Thursday.

The Bill was introduced by Food Minister K.V. Thomas in the presence of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who has been keen on ensuring that the law is enacted. It seeks to “provide food and nutritional security by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices to people [to enable them] to live a life with dignity.”

The proposed law marks a paradigm shift in addressing the problem of food security — from the existing welfare approach to a right-based approach. Besides expanding the coverage of the Targeted Public Distribution System, it will confer legal rights, enabling eligible beneficiaries to receive foodgrains entitlements at highly subsidised prices.

Free meals

The law will also confer legal rights on women, children and other special groups — destitute, the homeless, disaster-and-emergency-affected persons and persons living in starvation — to receive meals free or at an affordable price.

The law will entitle people eligible under the priority category (Below the Poverty Line families) to a monthly allotment of 7 kg of foodgrains, comprising rice, wheat and coarse grains, per person. Rice will be provided at Rs. 3 kg, wheat at Rs. 2 and coarse grains at Re. 1.

The general category will get at least 3 kg of grain at a rate not exceeding 50 per cent of the minimum support price.

The subsidy will be extended to up to 75 per cent of the rural population and up to 50 per cent of the urban population — with not less than 46 per cent of the rural population and 28 per cent of the urban population designated as priority households.

Maternity benefits

Every pregnant woman and lactating mother will be entitled to meals free of charge during pregnancy and six months after childbirth, through the local anganwadi.

The Bill provides for a maternity benefit of Rs. 1,000 a month for six months. Besides, every child up to the age of 14 shall have entitlement to nutritional needs. For children between six months and six years, appropriate meal would be provided free of charge through the local anganwadi to meet nutritional standards. For children in the 6-14 age group, one mid-day meal would be given free of charge everyday, except during holidays, in all schools run by local bodies, and government and government-aided schools up to class VIII.

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