Current grains allocation, AAY entitlement will be protected under the Bill, he assures States

Responding to concerns expressed by several States on a possible cut in food grains allocation under the National Food Security Bill, the Centre on Thursday gave an assurance that the current allocation will be protected and so will the Antyodaya Anna Yojna (AAY) entitlement for the poorest of the poor.

The Bill, Minister of State for Food K.V. Thomas said, would be reworked to make it “practical” and “acceptable.” It was proposed to be presented in the budget session of Parliament.

Referring to the consultation with State food ministers on Wednesday, Mr. Thomas said every State, except Delhi and Bihar, opposed cash transfers in lieu of grains to beneficiaries. He said their demand for protection of their current grains entitlement was “legitimate” and the Food Ministry was inclined to continue the allocations.

“Yesterday, we had lengthy discussions with the States. Apart from Tamil Nadu, others welcomed the Bill with their own suggestions. The general feeling among the States is that AAY section needs to be protected. The States also suggested protection of current allocation of grains. We are almost agreeable to this, subject to the Cabinet approval,” he said.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Food had recommended that the AAY entitlement be subsumed in the “inclusion” category, but the government intends to retain it.

On the States apprehensions of additional financial burden they would have to bear to implement the Bill’s provisions, he said the Bill would, in fact, entitle them to food grains from the Centre at much lower prices, thus lowering their burden. The States had sought funds for setting up State food commissions, grievance redress agencies and for operationalising the scheme for mandatory distribution of subsidised grains.

On the issue of identification of beneficiaries and inclusion of poor households, Mr. Thomas said the States would have the “freedom” to use the Socio-Economic Caste Census data or “something else set by the Planning Commission.”

For providing subsidised grains to 67 per cent of the population under the public distribution system, the Centre would have to pick a subsidy bill of Rs. 1.20 lakh crore from the current Rs. 1 lakh crore.

Asked about Tamil Nadu’s desire to stay out of the purview of the Bill, he said: “We need to address their concerns. They will come around.”

The Bill, which has been a priority in the Congress’ election manifesto, has been in the making for over four years.

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