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Updated: September 12, 2013 15:21 IST

When food’s the weapon

Suvojit Bagchi
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Election speak: Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh. Photo: V. Sudershan
The Hindu Election speak: Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh. Photo: V. Sudershan

Ahead of Assembly elections, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister tom toms the superiority of the State’s food security policy over the National Food Security Bill

With about a few weeks to go for the election code of conduct to be in place in the State, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh is fiercely promoting his food security policy through speeches, interviews and articles and branding the Congress’ National Food Security Bill, 2013 as an “irrevocable failure”.

While launching the Hindi edition of a national magazine in Raipur recently, he said “…making a mountain out of a mole hill, is the only way one can describe the National Food Security Bill.” Mr. Singh has been criticising the National Food Bill in public rallies since it was placed in Parliament a few weeks back. He feels the Bill is unable to match the Chhattisgarh Food Security and Nutritional Act, in “quality and quantity.”

While highlighting the differences between the National Bill and the State Act, one of his arguments has been that the Central Bill has not addressed the “nutritional requirement” of the people. “The National Bill was projected as a game changer. But without adding pulses or salt, how is it going to address the issue of malnutrition? I feel, it has failed to change the game,” reiterated Mr. Singh. The State government has added two kg of pulses and an equal amount of salt to its Act to address large scale malnutrition in Chhattisgarh.

Mr. Singh has also been criticising the Centre’s policy of providing less food grain, compared to the State. In the final leg of his Vikas Yatra (development rally) over the last weekend, he said, “In Chhattisgarh, people eat rice at least three times in 24 hours…perhaps people in Delhi have no idea about our eating habits and hence the Central government reduced the quantity substantially,” he said. Central allocation has been five kg of rice for each person of a family. Chhattisgarh’s average family has four members, so each family (of four) is entitled to a cumulative 20 kg of food grain. But the State government has allocated 35 kg of food grain for each family.

However, while the National Bill has allocated Rs. 6,000 as maternity benefit for women below and above poverty line, the State Act is silent about any such cash transfer. In fact, Mr. Singh has again made clear that “Public Distribution System [PDS] will not be connected to cash transfer in any way”.

In addition, the implementation of the National Bill will provide subsidy for covering around 80 per cent of the households of Chhattisgarh under PDS. So, the expansion of PDS coverage by the Centre effectively means a huge saving of subsidy for the State government. “It would allow the State to utilise the money, thus saved, for other welfare schemes,” a senior Central government official told The Hindu.

The State government, however, has been completely silent about these benefits of the proposed Central legislation.

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