The Sunday Story

Famous for its universal Public Distribution System and rice distribution politics, Tamil Nadu may have to wait for more than a year before it can implement the proposed law for food security meaningfully.

The reason: identification of eligible households as per the law is linked to the completion of the process of the National Population Register (NPR). This linking has been made because beneficiaries are to be identified based on reliable, authentic and the latest data. It will also help to overcome problems such as duplication of entries, wrong names and bogus cards. As part of the second stage of the NPR, every resident’s biometric details are gathered, and these will the basis for assigning Aadhaar number. The NPR, which covers people aged five years, has so far enrolled four crore out of the 6.7 crore people.

Under the Tamil Nadu model of the PDS, every rice-drawing cardholder is entitled to 20 kg of rice free every month. There are about 10.6 lakh cardholders who opted for an additional quantity of sugar in lieu of rice. In respect of Antyodaya Anna Yojana beneficiaries, 35 kg of rice is given monthly. Totally, 1.85 crore family cards get free rice. To feed them, the State requires at least 36.78 lakh tonnes a year.

In its original form, the National Food Security Bill had threatened to derail the free rice scheme as its criteria for inclusion and exclusion of beneficiaries eliminated 3. 56 crore, or nearly one half of the State’s population of 7.22 crore.

Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s worry is that against the national coverage of 75 per cent of rural population and 50 per cent of urban population, the law will cover only 62.5 per cent of rural population and 38 per cent of urban population in the State. The figures have been arrived at on the basis of the 2011-2012 large sample survey of household consumer expenditure. As per the Bill, the State’s revised entitlement comes to 21.88 lakh tonnes.

Thanks to the row kicked up by her, the Centre finally agreed not only to protect the existing annual allocation of 36.78 lakh tonnes of rice but also to provide 14.9 lakh tonnes, which is over and above the revised entitlement of the State, at Rs. 8.30 a kg (in lieu of Rs. 3 a kg for the quantity under the revised entitlement). Prior to the Bill was adopted, Ms. Jayalalithaa and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam president M. Karunanidhi had urged the Centre to provide the additional quantity at Rs. 3 or Rs. 8.30 a kg (a rate which is now applicable to Above Poverty Line families).

Another concern is that the identification of eligible beneficiaries would have to tally with the Union government’s estimates of population coverage, a senior official said. Another official, who is now with the Centre, said Tamil Nadu should seek more rice as there are 25 lakh migrant workers in the State.

Many more administrative issues are likely to arise in the coming months but the Chief Minister’s promise in her Independence Day address that the State’s universal PDS would continue would have come as a relief to its beneficiaries.