Centre calls meeting of State ministers for Sept. 23, 24

The National Food Security Bill has been passed by Parliament but now comes the thorny issue — sharing the cost of rolling out the programme between the Centre and the States.

To discuss the issue, the Centre has convened a meeting with State Food Ministers for September 23 and 24. It was only after several parties insisted did the Centre agree to bring an amendment to the Bill on holding “consultations” with the States on the rules to be framed by it, instead of just issuing “directions.”

“As the Bill provides, we are consulting the State governments before we frame the rules, schemes and guidelines. We will also discuss modernisation of the targeted Public Distribution System with the State Ministers,” Food Minister K.V. Thomas told The Hindu on Wednesday.

The meeting, to be attended by senior Cabinet Ministers, will discuss the contentious issues of the ratio of cost-sharing between the Centre and the States for transportation of foodgrains from Food Corporation of India godowns to fair price shops. The Centre is demurring about sharing 50 per cent of the transportation cost as demanded by the States.

The Centre will attempt at evolving consensus on the amount, time and manner of payment of food security allowance to beneficiaries and introduction of cash transfer, food coupons or other schemes for the targeted beneficiaries.

The Union government has to frame and notify the norms and how it will provide funds to the States in case of short supply of foodgrains from the Central pool. By law, it is now the Centre’s obligation to procure, provide and distribute to each State and Union Territory its entitlement of foodgrains to cover all beneficiaries.

Seventy five per cent rural and 50 per cent urban population is entitled to avail itself of 5 kg of rice or wheat or coarse cereal per person at Rs. 3, Rs. 2 or Re 1 per kg respectively every month. The implementation of the scheme and the identification of beneficiaries have to be done by the States. There is a proposal to set up an expert panel which will give its recommendations on PDS reforms as envisaged in the Bill, according to Mr. Thomas.

Maternity benefit

The meeting will also decide the instalments at which a maternity benefit of Rs. 6,000 is provided to an expectant woman and frame schemes for coverage of pregnant women, lactating mothers and every child up to the age of 14 under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme and mid-day meals.

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