Centre in no hurry to cut PDS cover for poor

Shanta Kumar, Chairman, High Level Committee on restructuring of Food Corporation of India on January 22

Shanta Kumar, Chairman, High Level Committee on restructuring of Food Corporation of India on January 22

The Narendra Modi government is not in a hurry to accept the controversial recommendation of the Shanta Kumar panel to cut the public distribution system beneficiaries for subsidised foodgrains to 40 from 67 per cent under the National Food Security Act, highly placed government sources have indicated to The Hindu .

With several crucial Assembly elections in the offing this and the next year and the resurgence of the Aam Aadmi Party which is waiting to spread its wings in Punjab and Bihar, the Modi government is treading cautiously on important policy decisions.

Assembly elections in Bihar, where the BJP is hoping to make a bid for power, is scheduled for later this year, and any backlash on account of reduced coverage under the NFSA is not something that the Modi government would like at this juncture.

Incidentally, Union Food and Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan whose Lok Janshakti Party is a BJP ally at the Centre and in Bihar, has strong reservations about the suggestion to cut down the priority beneficiaries from the Targeted PDS.

Some panel proposals may be considered

The Shanta Kumar committee recommendations have already drawn flak from several opposition parties.

“Even if the UPA’s National Food Security Act was a Lok Sabha poll-eve gimmick, the NDA cannot be seen tinkering with it so as to reduce the percentage of beneficiaries. It will be a highly unpopular proposal on which there will be no political consensus,’’ highly placed sources told The Hindu .

But some recommendations regarding the re-structuring of the FCI, modernisation of the PDS, conversion of godowns into silos, de-centralised procurement and raising the quantum of foodgrains to 7 kg per person from the present 5 kg may be taken on board.

So far only 11 States have rolled out the National Food Security Act but none has the requisite infrastructure in place. The NDA has given time till June for States to get their act together. The NFSA includes the Mid-Day Meal Scheme, Other Welfare Schemes and the Targeted Public Distribution System. The 67 per cent TPDS coverage includes 75 per cent population in rural areas and 50 per cent in urban areas. Under the scheme, rice is priced at Rs. 3 per kg, wheat at Rs. 2 per kg and coarse grains at Re. 1 per kg. States have to identify the beneficiaries as per a criterion and cap worked out by the erstwhile Planning Commission.

The panel which was set up by the Modi government in August to make recommendations for re-structuring the Food Corporation of India, has suggested that the Centre “re-visit’’ the National Food Security Act to incorporate its recommendations.

Among other key recommendations are raising the quantum of rationed foodgrains to seven kg per person instead of five, raising the cost of rationed foodgrains, shifting to cash transfers in lieu of foodgrains, a re-look at the regime for giving minimum support price for farm commodities, an open-ended procurement system, outsourcing of foodgrains storage and entry of private players into bulk handling of foodgrains.

It justified its recommendations on the consideration of large foodstocks, lack of storage space and high food subsidy bill, budgeted at Rs. 1,02,476 crore for 2014-15. The allocation of foodgrains under the Act is estimated at 62.1 million tonne.

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Printable version | Aug 11, 2022 5:29:28 pm |