The experts group, chaired by chief of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council C. Rangarajan, set up by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to examine the recommendations of the National Advisory Council (NAC) on the proposed National Food Security Bill, will hold its first meeting here on Friday.
Even as the NAC is formulating the draft Bill, the experts group will examine the proposals and come up with its suggestions.
A meeting of the Empowered Group of Ministers of Food, headed by Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, was also to have discussed the NAC proposals on Wednesday, but it was postponed in view of the upcoming meeting of the experts group.
Besides Mr. Rangarajan as the chair, the group includes the member-secretary of the Planning Commission, the Secretaries of Food, Agriculture and Expenditure who are concerned with the financial implications of the programme as well as implementation of the public distribution system. Chief Economic Adviser to the Finance Minister Kaushik Basu is also on the panel.
NAC chairperson Sonia Gandhi has communicated to the government the council's recommendations on the National Food Security Bill. The NAC has recommended that legal entitlements to subsidised foodgrains be extended to at least 75 per cent of the population, which translates into 90 per cent population in rural areas and 50 per cent in urban areas.
In the first phase, food entitlements should be extended to 85 per cent of the rural population and 40 per cent of the urban population. Full coverage of food entitlements should be extended to March 31, 2014.
The NAC has suggested that ‘priority' (Below the Poverty Line) households (46 per cent in rural and 28 per cent in urban areas) should have a monthly entitlement of 35 kg of subsidised foodgrains at Re. 1 per kg for millets, Rs. 2 for wheat and Rs. 3 for rice. The ‘general' (Above the Poverty Line) households (44 per cent in rural areas and 22 per cent in urban areas) should have a monthly entitlement of 20 kg at a price not exceeding 50 per cent of the current minimum support price for millets, wheat and rice.
The production and procurement of foodgrains, the subsidy component and the identification of the beneficiaries are contentious issues that the Rangarajan experts group will look at. As of now, the Planning Commission has to come up with poverty estimates.
However, at the last meeting of the NAC, members wanted all Dalits and tribals in rural areas covered under the proposed Bill which might entail an additional foodgrains allocation of five per cent.
A draft food Bill worked out by the NAC suggests setting up a National Food Commission to ensure implementation of the provisions of the proposed Bill and enforcement of penalties for violations.
The Rangarajan panel should ideally consider also the demand of civil society groups under the Right to Food Campaign for an all-inclusive, universal public distribution system, a foolproof delivery system and decentralised production of grains, procurement and distribution that will address rampant malnutrition.
Keywords: Food Security Bill