Union Minister confident of getting other parties’ approval to make right to food a legal entitlement
Union Minister of State for Food and Consumer Affairs K.V. Thomas on Monday expressed confidence that the National Food Security Bill that envisages legal entitlement for subsidised foodgrains to 67 per cent of the country’s over 120 crore population would have smooth passage in the current Budget session of Parliament.
Mr. Thomas, who was interacting with journalists of The Hindu and Business Line, said he did not see any problem in getting other political parties on board to make right to food a legal entitlement in a country that still faced serious malnutrition issues.
Last week, the Union Cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, had approved an amended version of the National Food Security Bill that now seeks to provide five kg of subsidised foodgrains, including rice and wheat, every month to an estimated 800 crore citizens under the Targeted Public Distribution System.
According to Mr. Thomas, the Centre would have to procure 62 to 63 million tonnes of foodgrains to make 67 per cent of the population legally entitled for food. Under revised calculations following the 2010 Census and the demarcation of a new poverty line, the government’s subsidy commitment would aggregate around Rs. 1.35 lakh crore, against the Rs. 1 lakh crore subsidy component for the TPDS - and would also include other interventions such as noon meal schemes.
“This is a big challenge in terms of financial obligation and procurement-distribution, but we can do it,” Mr. Thomas said.
He pointed out that as per the projection given by the Ministry of Agriculture, the government had to procure 82 million tonnes of foodgrains every year till 2040.
“Our production is to the tune of 223 million tonnes. We are already exporting some. If we have surplus to export, why not give it to our people,” he reasoned.
Food will be the last item to be brought under the Direct Benefits Transfer Scheme, as before that the entire supply chain required to be cleaned up, issues such as bogus cards eliminated, warehouse modernised and at least 90 per cent of the population needed to have bank accounts, Mr. Thomas said. “This will take a while,” he said.
Though foodgrains wastage at godowns of the Food Corporation of India had been brought down to 0.03 per cent of the production from 2.5 per cent, there were still other lacunae to be addressed.
One of them was the inadequate commission for ration dealers. “We are writing to State governments to give better commission to dealers,” he said.
He also suggested that cooperative societies, local bodies or women self-help groups be encouraged to actively participate in the system.
To a question, Mr. Thomas said the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) would take up this Thursday the recommendations of the Rangarajan Committee on sugar decontrol.
The C. Rangarajan Committee, which went into the issue of decontrol, had come up with eight important recommendations and the Food Ministry had flagged three as priority – allowing States to buy sugar for PDS with the Centre compensating the cost, regulating mechanism for the release of sugar in the open market and doing away with the mandatory jute packaging.