States given six months to prepare for implementation
President Pranab Mukherjee on Friday agreed to the United Progressive Alliance’s (UPA) Ordinance on the ambitious food security programme. The Ordinance will bestow upon 67 per cent of the population the legal right to avail cheap food grains from ration shops through the Targeted Public Distribution System.
The gazette notification of the Ordinance by the Law Ministry will set in motion the process of identification by the States of the beneficiaries who will qualify for 5 kilograms of wheat or rice or millets per person every month at the rate of Rs. 3 per kg, Rs. 2 and Re. 1. Presently, 35 kg is being given to each beneficiary household. Fresh ration cards will have to be issued.
The President’s assent comes two days after the Union Cabinet approved of the landmark programme which has been described by the Congress as a ‘game changer’ and slammed by the Opposition as an ‘election gimmick.’
States have been given up to six months to prepare themselves to deliver the ambitious programme, which is the largest in scale in the world. The Centre will spend approximately Rs. 1,25,000 crore annually on allocation of about 62 million tonnes of food grains, up from about 56 million tonnes at present.
The States will frame rules on the criterion for selection of beneficiaries but are expected to be guided by the data churned out by the Socio-Economic Caste Census. They will also take out orders on other aspects of the scheme.
On its part, the Centre will frame rules “within a month” regarding the compensation to be given to a beneficiary if denied his/her quota of grains. Rules will also be made on the funding of transportation and food grains handling charges.
Official sources said States are expected to launch the programme as and when they have all the mechanisms in place. However, Chhattisgarh, which already has a Food Security Act in place, could be the first State to launch the programme, followed by Karnataka, which too is in a high state of preparedness. When the States are ready they will qualify to receive wheat at Rs. 2 per kg and rice at Rs. 3 per kg from the Food Corporation of India. There is no clarity on supply of millets.
For now, the existing Targeted Public Distribution System will continue to deliver discounted food grains to Below Poverty Line and Above Poverty Line households. In the Ordinance, these distinctions have been replaced with ‘inclusive’ and ‘exclusive’ categories. Thirty-three per cent of the population has been excluded from the scheme.
Tamil Nadu had earlier stated that it will stay out of the Centre’s food security legislation but sources said if the State can get grains from the Central pool at much cheaper rates, it is likely to opt for it.
The Ordinance comes before the monsoon session of Parliament with Opposition parties assailing the government for taking the measure without a debate in Parliament. The Bill is pending discussion and passage in the Lok Sabha. The programme, an election promise of the Congress, has been pushed by Sonia Gandhi.
In Lucknow, UPA’s outside ally, the Samajwadi Party, accused the Congress of indulging in “vote bank politics” and said its intentions were not good.