New Delhi: A panel of experts that sets the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance administration’s social agenda is likely to reject a draft law to offer cash compensation to the poor, who do not receive their quota of subsidized foodgrain.
Members of the National Advisory Council (NAC), which is led by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, insisted during a Thursday meeting that the entitlement should be universal, instead of being restricted to families below the poverty line (BPL).
“Overall, the members were opposed to this idea,” a member, who attended the meeting, said on condition of anonymity.
Mooted by the Planning Commission, the proposal of cash transfers is part of one of the drafts of the food security legislation, which is being finalized by the agriculture ministry, Mint reported on 7 June.
Critics say that a so-called targeted public distribution system (PDS), which focuses on BPL families, will exclude many deserving families.
“A final draft will be ready in our next meeting on 14 July,” the NAC member said.
Two NAC members, agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan and bureaucrat-turned-social activist Harsh Mander, highlighted the need for universal food entitlement, according to an NAC statement.
They focused on “efforts towards increasing overall availability of foodgrain through the stepping up productivity of agriculture and also larger procurement of foodgrains”, the statement said.
“The working group advised that special care should be taken to cover the poorest among the poor, namely, disadvantaged groups such as the aged, the infirm, the destitute, the homeless, the differently abled, street children, primitive tribes and persons suffering from debilitating diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and leprosy,” it added. “The need for systemic reforms to improve the functioning of PDS was also emphasized.”
Before Thursday’s meeting—the second since the panel was reconstituted in March—NAC had discussed the proposed legislation with the Planning Commission and non-governmental organizations working in the field of food security.
“We have expressed our concern over the government’s proposed move for allowing cash transfer,” said Annie Raja, general secretary of the National Federation of Indian Women. “We are of the view that it would be the first step for the government to withdraw itself from the food security scene itself.”
The NAC meeting also discussed a draft legislation to curb and control communal violence. Some members said the Bill should extend the definition of communal violence to include sectarian violence, or riots among members of different sects of the same religion.
They also argued that the Central government and its agencies should be given the authority to intervene if state administrations and the police fail to control the violence, instead of waiting for a request from the concerned state government.
Social activists have opposed the Bill that was cleared by the cabinet in December, claiming that it can’t check the outbreak of communal violence and punish the guilty, especially if government officials are involved.