PM’s panel disagrees with NAC on food security law

January 13th, 2011 - 9:49 pm ICT by IANS  

Sonia Gandhi New Delhi, Jan 13 (IANS) Taking a reality check, a prime ministerial panel Thursday disagreed with the Sonia Gandhi-headed National Advisory Council’s ambitious plans on food security, saying it would be difficult to legally entitle 75 percent of India’s population to subsidised foodgrain. Unveiling its report, the the prime minister’s expert committee on the National Food Security Bill recommended that the assured delivery of wheat at Rs.2/kg and rice at Rs.3/kg could be given only to the really poor.

The NAC, headed by United Progressive Alliance chair Sonia Gandhi, had recommended legal entitlement of subsidised foodgrain for both “priority” and “general” households, covering at least 72 percent population in phase-I starting 2011-12 and 75 percent in phase-II in 2013-14.

“It will not be possible to implement NAC recommended food entitlements for either of the phases,” the expert committee said in its report.

“EC recommends the assured delivery of foodgrains at Rs.2 per kg for wheat and Rs.3 per kg for rice to the really needy households and the coverage of the rest through an executive order with a varying quantum depending on the availability of foodgrains,” the committee, which is headed by C Rangarajan, chairman of the prime minister’s economic advisory council, said in its report.

The committee has suggested legal entitlement to 46 percent of tne rural and 28 percent of the urban population, which it said “are the same as NAC recommended ‘priority’ households.” This covers not only the poor but also some at the margins, the report added.

“National Food Security Bill (NFSB) creates a statutory entitlement for the included population and a legal obligation for the government, hence it is important to mandate enforceable entitlements keeping in mind the availability of grain,” it said.

The Congress party, in its 2009 manifesto, had promised to bring a food law under which it would provide 25 kg of wheat or rice per month at Rs.2/3 per kg to the poor.

The committee stressed that foodgrain requirement as well as subsidy outgo projection by the NAC is on the lower side. The report added that the total foodgrain requirement for the entitled population (priority households), buffer stock and other welfare programmes is estimated to be 50.96 million tonnes this year, while procurement is at 56.35 million tonnes.

The committee said: “The balance of foodgrains of around 5 million tonnes can be distributed to the non-entitled population (general households) at an issue price equal to minimum support price, which is likely to be lower than the market prices.”

The panel also recommended that the state governments be entrusted with the responsibility of identifying the beneficiaries.

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