New Delhi: The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is expected to introduce the National Food Security Bill, a proposal that aims to provide subsidized foodgrain to the poor, in the monsoon session of Parliament even as the procurement of rice and wheat touches a record high.
The ruling Congress party had pledged in its manifesto for the 2009 national elections to provide foodgrain to the poor at a subsidized rate. The Bill will be finalized at the next meeting of the empowered group of ministers (eGoM), said a top official in the food ministry, requesting anonymity.
“The food ministry’s discussions with the Planning Commission, finance ministry, the National Advisory Council (NAC) are almost over. The minister (K.V. Thomas) and agriculture minister (Sharad Pawar) are meeting on 14 June for final rounds of talks,” the official said. The government has refused to lift a ban on the export of foodgrain from its buffer as it wants to ensure adequate stock before bringing in the legislation. India banned wheat exports in February 2007, when an inadequate monsoon hit production. The government lifted the ban in July 2009 but reimposed it within 10 days of its lifting.
The NAC, chaired by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, has proposed a legal entitlement to 75% of the population, including both priority and general household categories. However, the legislation was delayed as a government-appointed panel, headed by C. Rangarajan, chairman of the Prime Minister’s economic advisory council, has raised concerns over the availability of foodgrain and the financial burden. Currently, the government supplies 35kg of rice and wheat every month at subsidized rates to 65.2 million poor families through the public distribution system. The government spends Rs 55,578 crore on food subsidy.
Thomas said that the production and procurement this year have been at a record high. While wheat production is projected at 84.27 million tonnes (mt) this year, rice output is estimated as 94.1 mt. “By this April, the government has been able to procure 26.74 mt of wheat and 29.47 mt of rice (compared with 25.38 mt and 28 mt, respectively, last year). This was possible because of the monitoring system, which has been strengthened by various measures such as computerization of all godowns and regular meetings with officials etc.,” the minister said.
“The production also touched a record high at a time when the Food and Agriculture Organization has predicted a fall in foodgrain production globally,” Thomas said.
However, keeping in view the record production, the Union cabinet may approve an increase in the minimum support price or MSP of rice. The increase is expected to be Rs 160 per quintal.
The current MSP for two varieties of rice is Rs 1,000 and Rs 1,030 per quintal.
Sangeeta Singh contributed to this story.