Even as the Centre hopes to introduce and pass the National Food Security Bill in the coming budget session of Parliament, several States have expressed reservations on the Bill.
At a consultation meeting of State Food Ministers here to evolve a consensus on the recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee to which the government Bill was referred on Wednesday, many States differed on crucial provisions, particularly the ones relating to identification of beneficiaries, sustained availability of grains, proposed cut in individual entitlement and additional expenses to be borne by them.
According to Minister of State for Food K.V. Thomas, the Bill will be revised.
Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh sought a universal public distribution system.
Saying there was “no procedural clarity,” Tamil Nadu sought to be completely exempted from the purview of the Bill.
A majority of the States categorically opposed cash transfers in lieu of grains. Some of them cautioned the Centre against rushing through the Bill without adequate level of preparedness and availability of grains. Several consuming States such as Kerala and Tamil Nadu expressed the apprehension that their share of food grains allocation would decline under the new dispensation.
The States said they were utterly confused about how to identify the beneficiaries so that they could fit into the UPA’s eligibility criteria for 67 per cent of the population.
Moreover, with the socio-economic caste census (SECC) — which will determine the eligibility and entitlement of rural households for different programmes and schemes -- still not complete, the States pointed out that the government was “hurrying through” the process.
Seeking a “credible road map,” Gujarat cautioned about the “level of preparedness” and sought careful evaluation of resources.
Odisha said there was “utter confusion” about identification of beneficiaries. It asked the Centre to bear the additional cost of setting up a State food commission, grievance redress mechanism and operating the system.
Seeking a revised Bill, Bihar bemoaned that while the Centre exercised its power for fixing the number of beneficiaries, criteria for eligibility and the schemes, it “unilaterally” put all financial burden on the States.
The subsidy bill for mandatory distribution of 5 kg of rice, wheat and coarse cereals at Rs. 3, Rs. 2 and Re. 1 a kg respectively under the TPDS for 67 per cent of the population is estimated at Rs. 1.17 lakh crore.
The government Bill proposed a coverage of up to 75 per cent rural population with at least 46 per cent as “priority” (BPL) and up to 50 per cent of the urban population with at least 28 per cent as “priority.” It suggested monthly entitlement of 7 kg a person.
As against this, the Standing Committee recommended coverage of 67 per cent total population with 75 per cent in rural areas and 50 per cent in the urban areas as a single (inclusion) category with uniform entitlement of 5 kg a person. This would exclude separate entitlement for existing Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) households.
Mr. Thomas, who chaired the consultation meeting, said except Tamil Nadu all States welcomed the Bill albeit with certain reservations. “We cannot satisfy all states. We will present a revised Bill in Parliament.”
The Bill was introduced in December 2011 in the Lok Sabha and referred to the Standing Committee.