National Advisory Committee member, N C Saxena has criticised the two-year delay in passing the food security bill, saying this crucial time could have been used to address policy issues that may pose hurdles in its implementation.

“The bill was first tabled in Parliament in 2011. I am deeply disappointed that its fate hanged in balance for past two years. There was no need to wait for two years and this period could have been utilised to address a number of major policy constraints that will continue to pose hurdles even when the law comes in force,” Mr Saxena told PTI.

Mr Saxena, who was appointed by the Supreme Court as Food Commissioner on issues related to food security, said the bill, in its current format, is different from how it was suggested by the NAC and there are various hurdles in the fight against hunger which have to be addressed.

Listing out some of the challenges, he said identification of the people getting entitlement, and of the 33 per cent of people who will be kept out of the ambit, “has not been done yet” and it is a major problem.

“Secondly, petty politics will also take its toll. Some states, where the number of poor was comparatively low but they were picking large quantities of foodgrains from the Central quota, will be against the bill,” he said.

The National Advisory Council (NAC), an advisory body that gives suggestions on country’s policy issues, played an important role in drafting of the legislation.

The Cabinet on Tuesday approved changes to the Food Security Bill to grant the nation’s 67 per cent population the right to get monthly quota of 5 kg foodgrains at highly subsidised rates of Rs 1 - 3 per kg. The government intends to get the revised bill passed in the current session of Parliament that ends on May 10.

Mr Saxena also underscored the need to control foodgrain exports, noting that it is the poor and hungry who should have the first right over the country’s produce. “According to UN reports, nearly 23 per cent people in India are sleeping hungry and the government is exporting 10 metric tonnes of foodgrains. That means we are not feeding the country’s poor, but letting the precious foodgrains go wasted,” he said.

He said timely procurement and disbursement of foodgrains through strong supply chain mechanism are also important aspects.

“Against the required 25 to 30 metric tones of foodgrains, our buffer stock, which is kept as a backup to deal with emergency situations, is as high as nearly 70 metric tones. What is the point in keeping foodgrains in godowns when the people are dying of hunger,” Mr Saxena questioned.

Observing that Centre-state relations is another key issue of contention, he said given that the onus of the bill’s implementation lies on both the parties, there is a foremost need of proper coordination between them, else the entire purpose of the food bill will get defeated.

Mr Saxena, however, chose to differ from the demand of universal PDS raised by various rights groups, saying this will cut the monthly entitlement of foodgrains, drastically affecting some of the poorest of families in the country.

Raising objection against cash subsidies, he said the government has now decided to go for benefit transfers instead of cash transfer and this is a right move.

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