With Parliament expected to begin discussing the crucial food security Bill, Gujarat chief minister and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) probable prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has written a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh proposing a meeting of chief ministers on the legislation, saying it is an issue that concerns both the Centre and state governments.
In a letter dated 7 August, Modi said that poor families have been made ‘food insecure’ through the ordinance which “does not fulfil the basic objectives of food security”.
Pointing out deficiencies in the ordinance, Modi said “unworkable statutory responsibilities have been given to central and state governments” and the “number of beneficiaries has been fixed without specifying eligibility criteria and fixing individual entitlements. Between different states, there could be wide regional disparities.”
According to Modi, the Parliamentary standing committee had in January this year recommended that the government should formulate eligibility criteria in consultation with state governments. In his letter, the chief minister said the ordinance proposed to reduce the entitlement of below poverty line (BPL) families from 35kg per family to only 25kg per average family of five persons. “This cannot be the objective of any food security legislation which reduces the entitlement of those who have been identified as being below the poverty line.”
Modi noted that the Planning Commission had said there was a reduction in the number of BPL families, but under the ordinance, food support has been provided to about two-thirds of the population—something the chief minister described as illogical and needing to be discussed with the state governments.
Modi also said that the proposed entitlement of 5kg food grain per month per person implied the supply of only 165 grams per person per day, while people involved in labour-intensive activities required about 2,500 calories per day. As 100gm of food grain gives about 350 calories, 165gm would provide only 500 calories per day which is barely 20% of one’s daily calorie requirements, Modi pointed out.
The ambitious Rs.1.25 trillion food security plan, promising subsidized food to two of every three Indians, or just about everyone who needs it, was part of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance’s manifesto in 2009 and soon after returning to power, it promised that this would be implemented in its first 100 days in office. The ordinance cleared last month aims to provide 5kg of foodgrain per person per month to 67% of the country’s population at a subsidised price of Rs.1 to Rs.3 per kg.
The so-called poorest of poor households that fall under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana programme will continue to get 35kg of foodgrain per household per month. And states and union territories will continue to receive at least as much grain as they currently do from the Centre.