Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has ordered presentation of a new scheme that eschews the rural- urban divide as also the income divide
OUR BUREAU New Delhi
Goaded by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi as also by Trinamool C
ongress and the Left Parties to universalise the proposed food security, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has ordered presentation of a new scheme that eschews the rural- urban divide as also the income divide.
There will be no priority and general categories, getting foodgrains at different prices under the Public Distribution System ( PDS) nor 7 kg per person per month to the priority household and 3 kg per person per month to the general category household as proposed in the National Food Security Bill, introduced in the Lok Sabha in December.
Instead, it is now proposed to remove the income criteria and give 5 kg per person per month at the same price in the draft amendments rushed for consideration to the Parliamentary Standing Committee, headed by Congress MP Vilas Muttemwar scrutinising the Bill.
It will still remain a targeted PDS and not actually universal as the rich and the upper middle class, judged by the income tax they pay, will be excluded from getting the subsidised foodgrains. The Left leaders said they too did not want these groups included in their concept of universal food security since they can afford to buy at the market rates.
The new proposal will entitle 67 per cent of the population to have the right to food at highly subsidised rate as against 63.5 per cent beneficiaries, envisaged in the original Bill. The exchequers cost will go up from Rs 1.11 lakh crore in the original Bill to Rs 1.18 lakh crore while the quantity distributed will go up from 61 million tonnes to 62.5 million tonnes.
The government wants to get the liberal Bill passed and implemented by the time of the next Union Budget in 2013 as it may become another poll plank for the ruling Congress in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections alike the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act, which gave big dividends to the party in the last 2009 elections.
While Sonia Gandhi and lately Rahul Gandhi are putting pressure on the government to put the food security on the fast- track, the Left parties carried out a nationwide campaign for universal food security for five days last week and raised it in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday insisting that entire population should get 5 kg of rice or wheat per head per month at Rs 2 per kg.
Some of the members of the National Advisory Council ( NAC), headed by Sonia Gandhi, like Aruna Roy and Jean Dreze, were the first to express misgivings about the Bill brought by the government as it was quite different from one forwarded by the NAC. When a delegation of Left leaders called on the Prime Minister last week to seek universal PDS, they were surprised to know that the Prime Minister too agreed with their opinion that artificial break of the population into three groups will defeat the purpose of the food security. He assured them that he is working on improving the Bill pending in Parliament.
Sources say the PM felt the Bill was flawed since it divides population into three groups, making distribution work unmanageable and liable to another wave of corruption.
The Bill breaks the population into three groups – priority targets, who will get deeply subsidised seven kg of foodgrains ( rice at Rs 3, wheat at Rs 2 and coarse grain at Re 1 per kg) per month per head, the general category getting lower entitlement of 3 kg per month per head at half the procurement price, and those totally excluded.
The government has ultimately come around to agree with the Left and the NGOs that universalisation will end the never- ending controversy on who is poor.
One can exclude the rich on certain criteria, but how do you determine who is poor? Trying to do so will make the scheme unworkable, and may end up excluding those who need food the most and the government has accepted this flaw in the new proposal for