This will entail an additional subsidy of Rs.5,094 crore

Giving in to the demand of political parties, the Centre on Friday decided to provide the additional quantum of foodgrains to States under the National Food Security Bill (NFSB) at the current Targetted Public Distribution System (TPDS) price for the above poverty line (APL) population.

This will entail an additional subsidy of Rs.5,094 crore and hike the total subsidy bill under the NFSB to Rs. 1.27 lakh crore. The Cabinet Committee for Economic Affairs discussed the issue for nearly an hour before it took the decision on a proposal moved by the Food Ministry.

Informed sources said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh overruled a suggestion made by Finance Minister P. Chidambaram to link the additional allocation of foodgrains to the Minimum Support Price paid to farmers for the produce. Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar too backed linking the price of the extra outgo of grains to the MSP.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath, who is struggling in Parliament to get the Food Bill passed, and Food Minister of State (Independent) K.V. Thomas pointed out that protecting additional allocation was an assurance given to States and it must be made available at the current APL price.

In fact, one of the ten amendments moved by the UPA to the Food Bill in the Lok Sabha is on the protection of the “average annual off-take of foodgrains [by States] for last three years under TPDS at prices determined by the Central government as specified in Schedule IV.” Earlier, the government proposed to protect the allocation through an executive order.

Under the TPDS, the APL price for wheat is Rs. 6.10 per kg and for rice it is Rs. 8.30 per kg. As against this, the MSP for wheat is Rs. 13.50 per kg and for the common variety of rice it is Rs. 12.50 per kg and for Grade A it is Rs. 12.80 per kg.

About 18 States stand to lose a part of their current TPDS allocation of foodgrains under the NFSB after the Planning Commission came out with the share of each State based on new calculations for a coverage of 75 per cent rural and 50 per cent urban population under the NFSB after it is passed.

But the government has now decided to protect the additional allocation which totals 31.3 lakh tonnes. With this, the total outgo of foodgrains under the NFSB will be around 61 million tonnes per year. The State-wise allocation shall be 54.9 million tonnes minus the quantum required for welfare schemes.

Activists seek amendments

The Right to Food Campaign activists on Thursday staged a protest outside Parliament against the exclusion of entitlements for destitute and provision for community kitchens under the National Food Security Bill. They were detained for violating Section 144 of Cr. P.C.

Most of the elderly participants were from Rajasthan. They came to press the point that they had a right to food as much as any other section of the society and that they were being ignored.

They were later distributed food as part of a community kitchen by the activists, led by Harsh Mander, Dipa Sinha, Ashish, Aditya Srivastava, Dheeraj, Arundhati Dhuru, Richa, Biraj Patnaik and Kavita Srivastava. All of them were arrested and later released after Rajya Sabha member and CPI leader D. Raja intervened.

Vowing to continue its public protest till a comprehensive food security law was attained, the activists charged the Congress with reneging on its election promise to include community kitchens in the food security legislation.

Feeding programme

The feeding programme was organised to remind Parliamentarians that a Bill that does not address the situation of hunger and food insecurity of `the last person’ was not a `food security’ law. “It would be unjust to leave out the most-needy persons,” said Ms. Srivatsava adding that Parliament must debate the Bill and make government accountable for its actions.

Several Opposition parties, including the CPI (M), BJP, Biju Janata Dal and individual MPs have moved amendments on this aspect on the Food Bill in the Lok Sabha. “It was important to debate and adopt these and other important amendments related to universalising PDS, including pulses and oils in PDS, income guarantee for farmers,” said Ms. Dipa Sinha.

In Parliament CPI MPs A. Sampath, S.K. Saidul Haque and P. Karunakaran moved an amendment for the Centre to fund a scheme to provide a free meal to destitute every day. S.K. Saidul Haque (CPI). Sanjay Dhotre (BJP) and Bhartruhari Mahtab (BJD) have sought two free meal daily to destitute. Harin Pathak (BJP) and M.B. Rajesh of the CPI (M) moved amendments for one free meal daily for destitute and community kitchens for urban homeless and migratory population.

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