Cabinet defers food bill as discussions inconclusive (Second Lead)

December 13th, 2011 - 10:58 pm ICT by IANS  

Sonia Gandhi New Delhi, Dec 13 (IANS) The cabinet Tuesday deferred a decision on the proposed food security bill as talks on the legislation remained inconclusive, with Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar raising the issue of high subsidies involved in implementing the measure.

“Discussions remained inconclusive. We are trying our best to introduce the bill this session,” Minister of State for Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution (Independent Charge) K.V. Thomas told IANS.

The bill is the pet project of the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council.

Sources said Pawar has written to the food ministry expressing concern that the subsidy, at present is around Rs.63,000 crore, may go up to Rs.1.2 lakh crore once the right to food is enacted.

The rising fertiliser prices and the minimum support price of the grains could further add to the food subsidy, said sources.

For instance, while the bill proposes to give wheat at Rs.2 per kg to poor families, it would cost the government around Rs.17 per kg.

Sources said the government will now try to bring the United Progressive Alliance partners on board.

The draft bill seeks to cover not less than 75 percent of the rural population and 50 percent of urban households, and proposes 7 kg of foodgrain per person, at Rs.3 per kg for rice, Rs.2 per kg for wheat and Rs.1 per kg for coarse grains, to the priority beneficiaries.

The general category will be provided at least 3 kg foodgrains per person per month.

The draft bill suggests investment in the agriculture sector to boost food production in the long run. It also stresses on revamping the public distribution system, which will deliver the grains to the beneficiaries.

Taking note of concerns expressed by the states, the food ministry has provided for cost sharing in all the schemes under the draft bill.

The states want the central government to fully or partially share the cost of implementing the proposed law.

Other objections of the states include authority to decide on the criteria to identify the beneficiaries.

While the Chhattisgarh government wants to do the job itself, Bihar prefers an independent body to identify the beneficiaries.

Officials said the draft bill proposes legal rights to women, children, special groups including destitute and homeless, emergency and disaster affected persons and persons living in starvation to take home ration/meal.

To implement the right to food, the government has proposed to set up a three-tier grievance redressal mechanism at district, state and national level for the implementation of the legislation.

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