Same method of procurement, still subsidy saving for Govt.

CHENNAI Oct. 3. More than from the price adjustment made for PDS rice, the bulk of savings to the State Government, in its food subsidy bill, will come from `decentralised procurement'.

``It is an anachronism that Tamil Nadu has been holding on to the concept of State rice pool for so long, particularly when the Central pool is burgeoning with stocks. Today, the Centre holds more than 200 lakh tonnes of rice, with enough and more to spare for any State. It does not make any sense for Tamil Nadu to maintain its own rice pool and continue a parallel procurement system here'', explains a senior official.

The Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa's announcement means a saving of about Rs. 400 crores in food subsidy for a full year. The Tamil Nadu Civil Supplies Corporation was procuring rice at an average cost of Rs. 12 a kg and maintaining a separate pool, in addition to the Government availing itself of a substantial release from the Central pool for the public distribution system.

The reason was simple— the Centre's allocation came at Rs. 5.65 a kg for Below the Poverty families and at Rs. 8.30 for Above the Poverty Line families. It was cheaper than rice procured by the State at Rs. 12 a kg, directly from farmers.

In effect, Civil Supplies officials explain, the ``same method of procurement will continue, directly from the farmers as before and through procurement centres and godowns, but the rice will be delivered to the Central pool at an economic cost determined by the Government of India''.

Last year, the State Government offered a bonus/ allowance of Rs. 40, over and above the Minimum Support Price announced by the Centre. This year, the Prime Minister himself increased the MSP by Rs. 20 a tonne and the Chief Minister has appealed to him to increase it by Rs. 40, to offset the crop loss to delta farmers in Tamil Nadu.

This request may not materialise, but the Rs. 20-per tonne increase itself has somewhat cushioned the blow suffered by farmers this year. Annually 10-12 lakh tonnes of rice is procured, but this year, because of the loss of the kuruvai crop and the uncertainty over samba, it is likely to be much lower.

Responding to the criticism by political parties of the revision in the PDS price - for purchase above 10 kg - officials explain that even for 20 kg, a family will have to pay an average of Rs. 4.75 a kg, which is still lower than what obtains in other States. ``Kerala, Maharashtra and Karnataka charge Rs. 6.20, Rs. 6.75 and Rs. 6.15 a kg even for Below poverty line families, while West Bengal charges Rs. 6.15.''

Allaying fears among sections of TNCSC employees, the officials say there will be no loss of jobs because of the switchover to decentralised procurement. ``The corporation will continue to handle the same operations. Procurement will be directly undertaken.

The only change is that the procured rice will be delivered to the Central pool. The rice will be held by the corporation in its godowns. Under the new system, it will function as an agent of the Government of India. Since the same operations as in the past are continuing, the employees have nothing to worry about'', says a senior official.

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