50% of States ready to roll out the law; panel of secretaries will examine the grievances of the States

It is not clear how the Centre plans to share with the States the cost of the implementation of the food security law, State Food Ministers told Union Minister of State (Independent) for Food and Consumer Affairs K.V. Thomas at a consultation here on Tuesday.

“This is an Act without a clear-cut idea of expenses,” Punjab Food Minister Adesh Pratap Singh Kairon said. As many others echoed his view, Mr. Thomas announced a committee of secretaries, headed by the Food Secretary, to go into the demands and grievances of the States. His Ministry would also seek Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s approval to constitute a Group of Ministers to resolve problems so that the Act could be implemented speedily.

“My impression is that about 50 per cent of the States are ready to roll out the Act by year-end,” Mr. Thomas told journalists after the meeting, which the Food Ministers of Rajasthan, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Odisha skipped. “Their Secretaries attended the meeting of officials on Monday,” he clarified.

The Centre and the States have to agree on sharing the cost of handling and transport of grain, an enhanced commission to fair price shop owners to prevent diversion and the cost of intermediary godowns in the States to store four months’ stock. The expenses are put at Rs.10,000 crore. These will be in addition to the Rs. 1.25,000-crore subsidy for provision of grain at discounted rates to 67 per cent of the population.

Uttar Pradesh Food Minister Rajendra Chaudhary sought “advance funds” from the Centre for implementing the Act, which he said was “brought in haste for political gains [to the Congress].” Mr. Chaudhary is also the national spokesman of the Samajwadi Party, which supports the UPA government from outside.

“The Act is laden with several lacunae,” Tamil Nadu Food Minister R. Kamaraj said. The demand to identify beneficiaries in 365 days was “unrealistic,” he said, especially when the results of the socio-economic caste census were “yet to be made available to the States” and the census data “have not been shared with the States in a final, useable form.”

In an “urbanised State like Tamil Nadu,” the coverage of urban population should be raised to 75 per cent from 50 per cent, Mr. Kamaraj said. He demanded that the additional rice quota for continuing the State’s universal coverage be supplied at the APL (above the poverty line) rates.

Mr. Kairon raised the issue of quality grain. He said it made sense for the wheat- and rice-growing Punjab to procure and directly supply to its Targeted Public Distribution System beneficiaries in special bags of five kg or 10 kg each. The State wanted to cut the cost of procuring and sending grain to Food Corporation of India godowns and getting back the “old stock” from the Central pool.

Haryana Minister Mahendra Pratap Singh suggested that fair price shop owners be given a monthly salary, in addition to a per-bag “commission,” as an incentive to plug leakage.

Earlier, inaugurating the consultation, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar urged the States to work in mission mode to ensure production, procurement, transport, storage and distribution of foodgrains. “While we anticipate spending a food subsidy of almost Rs.1,000 per person a year, we must ensure that each and every grain reaches the right beneficiary.”

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