Asks Manmohan Singh to take a relook at it

Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to take a relook at the contours of food security for the country in the wake of the Centre promulgating the National Food Security Ordinance, 2013.

Lashing out at the Centre for “unilaterally and hastily” coming out with the Ordinance, she wanted a Bill reflecting Tamil Nadu’s concerns adequately to replace the Ordinance.

The Ordinance would only increase the uncertainty in ensuring food security and expose the State finances to an even greater risk as it had several flaws that created serious apprehensions and raised the spectre of food insecurity, she said in a letter to Dr.Singh on Friday.

Tamil Nadu, she added, was not likely to receive even the nationwide average allocation based on population proportion. A State-wise break up of the allocation, given by the Centre, revealed that only 62.55 per cent of the rural population and 37.79 per cent of the urban population would be covered in the State.

Therefore, the monthly allocation of food grains for Tamil Nadu would decline by nearly one lakh tonnes from the present 2.96 lakh tonnes. It would then cost the State exchequer a net additional Rs.3,000 crore per annum to preserve the universal PDS. “An even graver concern is the uncertainty of availability, which would expose the State to higher vulnerability of physical shortage, especially during scarcity periods,” Ms.Jayalalithaa said.

[At present, the food subsidy bill is around Rs. 4,900 crore] As the Tamil Nadu PDS was based on a combination of procurement of rice within the State and a reliance on assured allocations from the Central pool of food grains, the present level of allocation had to be retained without any diminution. While the State had requested a proviso to be inserted in the Food Security Bill to protect the existing level of allocation, the Ordinance had no such proviso.

She mooted a set of amendments to be made in the Bill that was proposed to replace it. There must be a provision to ensure that the present total allocation of food grains to the State under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana, Below Poverty Line (BPL) and Above Poverty Line (APL) categories was not reduced. Further, she wanted subsidised food grains to be made available to the entire urban population. The difference between the State’s current allocation and the proposed entitlement should continue to be supplied at the price now applicable for APL allotment.

PDS was originally put in place to ensure affordable supply of food primarily in urban areas, she said. With an urban population of 49 per cent, Tamil Nadu would be hit hard by the “ill-conceived and invidious discrimination” against urban areas in the Ordinance.

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