Universalisation not possible with current level of productivity

The National Advisory Council (NAC) met the Food Ministry halfway on Wednesday, when it recommended extension of universal food entitlements to one-fourth of either the poorest districts or the poorest blocks in the country.

This decision emerged after some NAC members pointed out that universalisation of food security would not be possible, given the current state of agricultural productivity and the level of grain procurement. However, they agreed that the implementation of food entitlements would follow the pattern of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, that is, it would be extended in phases. In the remaining areas, status quo will continue with the current application of the Public Distribution System: the most vulnerable third of the population will continue to receive 35 kg of grain at Rs. 3 a kg a household every month.

The NAC, sources said, would like these decisions implemented in a time-bound manner and implemented within a year of the Food Security Bill being passed. The members were in favour of the implementation of universal food entitlements in one-fourth of the poorest blocks rather than one-fourth of the districts, as that would better target the most vulnerable. But they felt it would be better to let the government take a call on this, depending on administrative convenience.

Communal Violence Bill to be redrafted

The NAC, however, rejected outright the draft on the Communal Violence Bill and decided to go back to the drawing-board to prepare a new Bill — a shorter, crisper and more pointed one — before taking it up for discussion with the government. The sources said the contours of the NAC's proposed Bill were discussed, and the key principle that was accepted was that of public accountability and command responsibility — that is officials and others should be held responsible for acts of omission and commission during prolonged communal violence.

There was also consensus on the inclusion of a Central authority to ensure that the executive did its duty but, the sources added, care would have to be taken to ensure that this authority did not infringe upon the powers of either the State government or the Centre. The overriding principle would be that just as the Right to Information had increased the civil liability of officials and those holding public office, the Communal Violence Bill should increase the criminal liability of officials and make them responsible for protecting the life and liberty of citizens.

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