One more effort to make government reconsider objections

The Sonia Gandhi-headed National Advisory Council (NAC) has decided to stick to its recommendations made on the draft National Food Security Bill at its meeting on October 23 last, though these have been rejected by a government committee led by C. Rangarajan, who heads the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council.

The committee was constituted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to examine the feasibility of the NAC's recommendations.

A note, presented by the NAC's Working Group on Food Security, on Monday dwelt on the proposed entitlements as well as the setting up of a grievance redress mechanism for the scheme. This is to ensure that if proposed beneficiaries are deprived of their entitlements, they will be able to approach a designated authority and secure their rights. The NAC members felt that the note, which was deliberated on, should be “supported with more analytical content” and placed before the NAC at its next meeting on January 21.

Evidently, the NAC is trying to make one more effort to persuade the government to reconsider its position.

At its October 23 meeting, the NAC suggested that legal entitlements to subsidised foodgrains be extended to at least 75 per cent of the population — 90 per cent in rural areas and 50 per cent in urban areas. Further, priority households (46 per cent in rural areas and 28 per cent in urban areas) should be entitled to 35 kg (equivalent to 7 kg per person) every month at a subsidised price of Re. 1 a kg for millets, Rs. 2 for wheat and Rs.3 for rice, with rural coverage adjusted State-wise based on the Planning Commission's 2004-05 poverty estimates. The general households (44 per cent in rural areas and 22 per cent in urban areas), the NAC had said, should be entitled to 20 kg (equivalent to 4 kg per person) every month at a price not exceeding 50 per cent of the existing Minimum Support Price for millets, wheat and rice.

On January 7, the Rangarajan Committee rejected the NAC proposals on the grounds that raising procurement levels further would “lead to a lower availability of foodgrains for the open market, pushing up prices.” Instead, while favouring mandatory entitlement of subsidised foodgrains to the ‘priority' category as recommended by the NAC, it said it was not feasible to extend to the ‘general' category legal entitlement of subsidised foodgrains under the Public Distribution System. The panel also suggested that the subsidised grain for the poor be linked to inflation and indexed to the Consumer Price Index in the coming years. This means the rate at which 35 kg of wheat (at Rs. 2 a kg) and rice (Rs. 3 a kg) is given per month to a poor household will be revised at a later date.

Additionally, the Rangarajan Committee has totally ignored the NAC's recommendations on non-PDS entitlements such as child nutrition programmes, maternity entitlements and destitute feeding, intended to address India's massive “nutritional deficiencies.”

Authority

On Monday, the NAC discussed the proposed redress mechanism, not just for the Food Security Bill but also for all existing rights-based schemes such as those relating to education, health and employment as well. What is being proposed is an authority at the district and block levels, which can be approached by anyone. The authority would be independent of the District Collector, NAC sources told The Hindu.

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