No legal cover to 75% population in food bill: PM''s panel

Written by: Pti
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New Delhi, Jan 13 (PTI) Prime Minister''s expert panel onFood Security Bill today disfavoured Sonia Gandhi headed NAC''sproposal of legally entitling 75 per cent of population tosubsidised foodgrains saying it will not be possible in viewof the current availability.

The expert panel, however, recommended "assured deliveryof foodgrains at Rs 2 per kg for wheat and Rs 3/kg for rice,to the really needy households and the coverage of the restthrough an executive order, with a varying quantum dependingon the availability of foodgrains".

The recommendations of the expert committee, which wentinto the proposals suggested for the National Food SecurityBill by the National Advisory Council (NAC), were made publictoday. The panel is headed by PM''s Economic Advisory Council(PMEAC) Chairman C Rangarajan.

The NAC, headed by Congress President Sonia Gandhi, hadrecommended legal entitlement to subsidised food grains toboth ''priority'' and ''general'' households, covering at least 72per cent population in phase-I starting 2011-12 and 75 percent in the Phase-II in 2013-14.

Going by NAC proposal, the foodgrain requirement would be74 million tonnes upon completion of final phase in 2014,while the total foodgrain availability with the government in2011-12 and 2013-14 is likely to be 56.35 million tonnes and57.61 million tonnes, respectively, based on the currentproduction and procurement trends.

"It will not be possible to implement NAC recommendedfood entitlements for either of the phases," the expertcommittee, said in its report.

Instead, the committee has suggested legal entitlement to46 per cent of rural and 28 per cent of urban population,which it said "are the same as NAC recommended ''priority''households".

This captures not only the poor but also some at themargin, the report added.

According to the panel recommendations, the grainrequirement will be nearly 52 million tonnes in 2014 and thesubsidy will be Rs 68,539 crores and if outgo on other welfareschemes and maintenance of buffer stocks included, the totalsubsidy would be Rs 83,000 crore.

At present, the government provides 35 kg of food grainsto 6.52 crore families below poverty line (BPL) through raionshops. Wheat is provided at Rs 4.15 per kg and rice at Rs 5.65per kg. .

"(The) National Food Security Bill (NFSB) creates a statutory entitlement for the included population and a legalobligation for the government, hence important to mandateenforceable entitlements keeping in mind the availability ofgrain," it argued.

The panel fears that increasing the current procurementlevel has "the danger of distorting the food prices in theopen market". Besides, it said any hike in support price toboost procurement would raise the "fiscal burden".

It also considers imports as an "undependable" and "highcost option" to meet the foodgrains requirement under proposedfood law.

"...the implementation of the entire set of NACrecommendation may have to be calibrated, to prevent the statefrom being accused of reneging of such an important right," itsaid, adding that the recommendations of the panel should beseen in this spirit.

The committee pointed out that foodgrains requirement andsubsidy outgo projection by the NAC is on the lower side andthe same needs to be adjusted for population and grainofftake.

While NAC has estimated foodgrains requirement at 63.59million tonnes and subsidy at Rs 79,931 crore, the panel haspegged the grain demand at 73.98 million tonnes and subsidy atRs 92,060 crore.

In its 2009 general election manifesto, the CongressParty had promised to enact a National Food Security Law,under which it would provide 25 kg of wheat or rice per monthat Rs 3 per kg to the poor.

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