Poverty levels were de-linked from food benefits after the controversy over Planning Commission’s definition of rural poverty

With a race on between the Congress-ruled States to be the first to roll out the National Food Security Ordinance — preferably by Rajiv Gandhi’s birthday on August 20 — the Planning Commission is expeditiously preparing for the Department of Food a comparative data based on NSSO statistics, on the food consumption patterns and differential pricing in rural and urban areas in different States.

This is to enable the Ministry to take an immediate call on the basis on which it will allocate foodgrain to different States for coverage of 75 per cent of the rural population and 50 per cent of the urban population under the National Food Security Ordinance. The government intends to protect the current allocation to States under the Targeted Public Distribution System, which will be based on the average lifting of foodgrain by States in the last three years. This will be in addition to their demand under the food security ordinance. However, going by past offtake of foodgrain, some of the States stand to lose out on their allocation under the new dispensation.

States will have to decide on how to identify eligible households. Since poverty levels are no longer linked to foodgrain benefits, they will have to fall back upon the data brought out by the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC). Poverty levels were de-linked from food benefits after the controversy over the plan panel’s Rs. 28 per capita per day spending definition of rural poverty.

According to authoritative sources, although the SECC was not meant for the purpose of identification of beneficiaries under the food security legislation, “anything else will be arbitrary as there is no comparable data for identification of eligible beneficiaries.”

Over 90 of rural households have been surveyed so far. The raw data has to go through the process of supervision, objections and corrections before it is finalised. But it is nevertheless available for use by States, the sources said.