The Central government is keen on piloting the Food Security Bill as early as possible after ongoing discussions with State governments and NGOs, Union Minister of State for Agriculture K.V. Thomas said here on Friday.

He was speaking to reporters after launching ‘FoodCon 2010,' a conference on latest trends in food processing and preserving technologies organised by the Tamil Nadu Technology Development & Promotion Centre (TNTDPC) of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

Mr. Thomas said a major point of discussion was whether the food security programme should be limited to food grains or should include other entitlements for a healthy life such as edible oil, milk, medicine and even drinking water.

Subsidy component

Pointing out that the food subsidy component was estimated at Rs.17,000 crore annually, Mr. Thomas said the Centre was also working towards redesigning and reformulating the norms for Below Poverty Line classification. The experience with the public distribution system was that subsidised food is not reaching the intended people.

On whether the Food Security Bill would be introduced in the monsoon session of Parliament, Mr. Thomas said the effort was to bring the landmark legislation as soon as possible.

“Discussions on the Food Security Bill are on with every State and NGOs... We also have an EGoM (empowered Group of Ministers) for this and we have to discuss with the Planning Commission and get Cabinet approval for the final version of the Bill. We have got some major projects for food production… including a Rs.25,000-crore project...” he said.

Infusing technology

Earlier, in his inaugural address at the FoodCon, Mr. Thomas stressed the need for infusing modern technology into farming, storage and value-addition in the food industry.

Unlike the situation of food scarcity last year, now the worry, following a good monsoon, was the lack of adequate storage space to stock food grains.

He urged the CII to play a lead role in encouraging private entrepreneurship in food products, storage, value-addition and packaging.

Pradipta K. Mohapatra, past chairman, CII-Southern Region, and chairman, Inclusive Society and affirmative action sub-committee, said the tremendous growth of certain sectors in the food industry over the last few years could be attributed to credible brand value and product innovation.

Plea to industry

Mr. Mohapatra urged the food processing industry to invest in branding, marketing and more importantly to upscale the business with global reach.

He also said that the food laws in India need to nurture rather than hamper the food processing industry.

Saikat Datta Mazumdar, Technical Director, NutriPlus Knowledge Centre, Agri-Science Park, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), outlined as major challenges the task of dealing with climate change, land degradation, loss of biodiversity, food crisis, energy crisis and population explosion.

One of the core aims of the ICRISAT was to enhance crop productivity through innovative methods and address food availability and reduce poverty.

The institution was focussed on catalysing strategic partnerships, building research and development capabilities in the agriculture sector that would help boost farm productivity, he said.

A. Padmasingh Isaac, event chairman, urged the food processing industry to move up the value chain by adhering to quality standards in food safety and hygiene.