Sonia-led council to present government with two options on foodgrains entitlements to consider before drafting bill

For the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC), drafting a Food Security Bill that will pass muster with the government is proving harder than it appeared at the outset. At the NAC's fourth meeting on Monday, informed sources said, Ms. Gandhi pointed out that the poor might wonder why the rich were being given the same entitlements — a comment that paved the way for the view that there should be a system of two prices/ differential entitlements.

It was, therefore, decided to present two options on entitlements for the government to consider before actually drafting the bill, as well as to secure official approval for the special provisions envisaged to take care of the nutritional requirements of the poorest of the poor. For, this, too, carries a huge price tag.

The first option, the sources said, was a uniform system of entitlements for a majority of the population, whereby 80 per cent of those living in rural areas and 33 per cent of those in urban India would be entitled to 35 kg of foodgrains at Rs. 3 a kg (per family) every month. The second option was a differentiated system, through which those living below the poverty line (pegged at 42 per cent) would get 35 kg per family every month at Rs. 3 a kg. In both scenarios, those who did not fall within the circle of the most vulnerable would be entitled to 25 kg of foodgrains every month at a price yet to be decided, possibly closer to the Minimum Support Price (MSP).

The decision to present these two options to the government emerged after National Food Security Working Group convener Harsh Mander made his presentation before the NAC on Monday. The Working Group's proposal also highlighted eight entitlements, apart from an inclusive and enhanced Public Distribution System (PDS), aimed at securing the nutritional requirements of those on the lowest rung of the economic ladder. These include schemes for child and maternal nutrition (such as ICDS), community kitchens for those suffering from TB and HIV/AIDS, homeless children and destitute people and old-age pensions. But, given that all this will have huge financial implications, “it is important to hear what the government has to say on these suggestions,” the sources said, stressing, however, that the NAC need not necessarily concur with the official view.

The next step is a “far more systematic interaction with government” on the final contours of the bill.

The NAC, the sources admitted, had been overly optimistic initially of how quickly it would be able to draft this bill, but resistance from the government, both because of the financial implications of universal entitlements and its apparent inability to procure more than the current 55 million tonnes of foodgrains every year — slowed down the process.

Communal violence Bill

Apart from the discussion on the Food Security Bill, the NAC could touch only briefly on the Communal Violence Bill, as Ms. Gandhi had to leave around noon to attend Parliament.

Briefing the NAC on the status of the redrafting of the Communal Violence Bill, Working Group Convener Farah Naqvi told the members that a Drafting Committee (DC) and an Advisory Group (AG) had been set up, and comments invited from citizens.

Those who attended the meeting included Prof. M.S. Swaminathan, Dr. Ram Dayal Munda, Prof. Narendra Jadhav, Prof. Pramod Tandon, Dr. Jean Dreze, Ms. Aruna Roy, Dr. Madhav Gadgil, Dr. N.C. Saxena, Dr. A.K. Shiva Kumar, Mr. Deep Joshi, Ms. Naqvi, Mr. Mander and Ms. Mirai Chatterjee.

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