Cabinet clears Ordinance to implement Food Security Bill

New Delhi, July 4:The govt on Wednesday decided to promulgate an ordinance to give nation's two-third population the right to 5 kgs of foodgrain every month at highly subsidised rates of Rs 1-3 per kg.

The Food Security programme when implemented will be the biggest in the world with the government spending estimated at Rs 125,000 crore annually on supply of about 62 million tonnes of rice, wheat and coarse cereals to 67 per cent of the population.

The Cabinet, which had last month deferred a decision on the issue following differences within, approved promulgation of an ordinance to implement the Food Security Bill.

"The Food Security Ordinance was unanimously approved by the Cabinet. It will now go to the Rashtrapati Bhavan for its assent," Food Minister K V Thomas told reporters in New Delhi on Wednesday.

The Ordinance is being promulgated just weeks before the scheduled Monsoon session of Parliament and there has been intense opposition from political parties which want the Bill to be debated in Parliament before being passed.

Left parties attacked the government for taking the ordinance route saying the UPA-II has shown contempt for Parliament while BJP termed it an "election gimmick" saying Congress was running away from a debate in the House.

Samajwadi Party, a key outside supporter of UPA, also sharply opposed promulgation of the ordinance saying it was undemocratic and the programme would derail the food economy.

The Ordinance will have to be approved by both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha within six months of promulgation.

The Ordinance, which will guarantee 5 kg of rice, wheat and coarse cereals per month per person at a fixed price of Rs 3, 2, 1, respectively, will come into effect after President Pranab Mukherjee signs it.

However, about 2.43 crore poorest of the poor families covered under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) scheme under PDS (Public Distribution System) would continue to get 35 kg of foodgrains per family per month but with legal entitlement.

Some ministers at the Cabinet meeting desired that the provisions be converted into a law passed by Parliament at the earliest.

Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, who was said to have had reservations on the Bill, said at the meeting that more funds should be provided for irrigation.

He also wanted that pulses and cereals be included in the scheme to give proper nutrition to the poor.

Sources said he batted for genetically-modified (GM) food to meet the increased demand.

Officials said once President signs it, rules will be framed and the programme will be rolled-out from August after state governments prepare the beneficiary list.

The scheme will take at least six months to cover the entire country, they said.

As per law ministry officials, the advantage of issuing the Food Security ordinance is that the shape of the Bill is intact and the clauses cannot be amended if changes are proposed by any party during its passage in Parliament.
The ordinance will timely confer the right to food to a larger section of population, allocate sufficient foodgrains on regulator basis under PDS and enable state governments to handle unforeseen situation caused by drought, sources said.

The government is believed to have opted for an ordinance route as some BJP-ruled states like Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh are already issuing foodgrains at Rs 1 per kg.

Commenting on the Ordinance, Commission for Agriculture Costs and Prices (CACP) Chairman Ashok Gulati said, "At present, it can be a blessing in disguise as there is huge foodgrains stock with the government. But how far it will remain sustainable unless we fix PDS, stabilise production and invest in storage and transportation?"

The biggest challenge is fixing leakage in PDS in states where poverty is more.

The second biggest threat will be that higher procurement of foodgrains to meet food bill demand, will drive out private players from wheat and rice market, he said.

The list of beneficiaries would be prepared by the state governments.

Other major highlights of the Food Security Ordinance are Rs 6,000 as maternity benefit and home ration or hot cooked food for children in the age group of 6 months to 14 years.

The eldest woman will be Head of the household for issue of ration card. If not available, the eldest male member will then be the head of the household for these purposes.

Industry body Assocham President Rajkumar N Dhoot said, "The Ordinance will insulate a large number of people from the inflation and would ultimately help the country in human development index."

The government must be complimented for taking a courageous decision even though it will strain the government finances.

However, the pilferages in PDS can be avoided with better implementation of the scheme, he said.

The only answer to tackle food supply and better nutrition for people is through better supply, he added.

The other provisions of the Ordinance include providing central funds to states in case of short supply of foodgrains in case of natural calamity.

The Centre would also provide assistance to states towards cost of transportation, handling of foodgrains and FPS dealers' margin.

The state and district level redressal mechanism will be set up to ensure transparency and accountability.

A penalty will be imposed on public servants or authority, if found guilty of failing to comply with the relief recommended by the District Grievance Redressal Officer.

At present, Centre supplies 35 kg of foodgrains to BPL/AAY families and atleast 15 kg to APL families.

Wheat is supplied at Rs 2/kg for AAY, while BPL gets wheat at Rs 4.15/kg and APL at Rs 6.10/kg.

Rice is given at Rs 3/kg to AAY, Rs 5.65/kg to BPL and Rs 8.30/kg to APL. There are currently 6.52 crore BPL familes, which include 2.43 crore AAY families.

The number of APL families are 11.5 crore.

Features of Food Security Bill:

1. Coverage of two thirds populations to get highly subsidized foodgrains.

2. Poorest of the poor continue to get 35 kg per household.

3. Special focus on nutritional support to women and children.

4. Food Security Allowance in case of non supply of foodgrains.

5. States to get assistance for intra-state transportation and handling of foodgrains.

6. Reforms for doorstep delivery of foodgrains.

7. Women Empowerment-Eldest women will be head of the household.

8. Grievance redressal mechanism at District-level.

9. Social audits and vigilance committees to ensure transparency and accountability.

10. Penalty for non compliance.

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