How Tamil Nadu fell in line on Food Security Act

The fundamental difference between the State government and the Centre is that the former favours the universal PDS, whereas the latter, targeted PDS.— File Photo: M. Govarthan  

The Tamil Nadu government had faced Hobson’s choice before it decided to implement the National Food Security Act (NFSA).

A few weeks ago, the government was administered a shock when it got a letter from the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, stating that with effect from November, the State would no longer get about 1.26 lakh tonnes of rice at Rs. 8.3 per kg. Besides, additional allocation of rice would be stopped. The reason cited was simple: non-implementation of the NFSA. In monetary terms, the decisions meant that the State government would have to bear about Rs.2,730 crore more annually. Originally, rice subsidy was estimated to cost around Rs. 2,393 crore for the current year.

In Tamil Nadu, where the politics of rice has always dominated the public discourse, the State government had its own reasons for not implementing the law for over three years. Apart from various reasons, the fundamental difference between the Tamil Nadu government and the Centre is that the former favours the universal PDS, whereas the latter, targeted PDS. Neither side has budged from its position.

As part of the NFSA, only 50.55 per cent of the State’s population — around 3.6 crore out of 7.2 crore — is eligible to be given rice at a subsidised price. Each person is entitled to five kg per month. So, if a family card has 10 beneficiaries, it will get 50 kg a month. Those who are eligible are called priority households and those who are not, non-priority households. Under its scheme, the State government has, so far, been providing rice free of cost virtually to all family card holders, irrespective of economic background. Till now, around 1.92 crore card holders have been getting rice free and the maximum quantity is 20 kg per card per month. If one were to go by stipulations of the NFSA strictly, the present coverage would undergo drastic changes, a scenario those in power can ill afford.

This is why the State government has chosen to combine the essential provisions of the Act with some of its traditional practices, explains a senior official. While keeping the minimum entitlement at 12 kg per card per month, it has removed the ceiling on the quantity of rice to be provided. If a card has only one beneficiary, it will fetch 12 kg. If there are two beneficiaries, such a card will get 16 kg and for three, 20 kg. In respect of those cards having four or more beneficiaries, the entitlement of five kg per person will operate. Consequently, a total of eight lakh tonnes more will be required annually, taking the total requirement to 44 lakh tonnes. This means that the additional financial commitment will be at least Rs. 1,193 crore.

The State government’s various demands, such as a legally binding assurance on the issue price for the non-priority households and 75 per cent coverage of urban population, have not been met with.

Confirming this, an official in the Union Ministry points out that the Centre has issued an order to the State on rice allotment as per the NFSA. For the category of priority households, the annual allotment is 24.24 lakh tonnes at an issue price of Rs. 3 per kg and for the other, 12.52 lakh tonnes at Rs. 8.3 per kg.

“State government will combine the Act’s essential provisions with some of its traditional practices”

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Printable version | Jun 19, 2021 9:08:14 PM |

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