New Delhi: The government has moved a step closer to having a food security Bill in place after the Planning Commission, the country’s apex planning body, identified the number of below poverty line (BPL) households in India at 74 million.
An empowered group of ministers, or eGoM, had held back its recommendations till the commission reported the number of BPL households, as this will determine the cost of providing the entitlement for those benefiting under the proposed food security legislation.
The figure was worked out on Tuesday at an inter-ministerial meeting hosted by the Planning Commission. Headed by deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the meeting was also attended by expenditure secretary Sushma Nath, food secretary Alka Sirohi and agriculture secretary P.K. Basu, besides Planning Commission members Saumitra Chaudhuri and Abhijit Sen.
“An estimate of 74 million BPL households has been worked out. This seems to be the final figure which will be sent to the eGoM,” said an official familiar with the development, who did not want to be identified given the sensitivity of the matter.
This is close to the BPL figure in the Suresh Tendulkar committee report submitted to the Planning Commission last year. The report put the number of BPL families at about 80 million, up from the Plan panel’s earlier estimate of 65 million.
That report was authored by an expert group appointed by the Planning Commission and chaired by Tendulkar, former chairman of the National Statistical Commission.
BPL cards issued to such households are used to obtain benefits under the government’s poverty alleviation programmes as well as gain access to cheap foodgrains from the public distribution system (PDS), subsidized health insurance and scholarships.
The eGoM, which last met on 23 April, had asked the Planning Commission to issue comprehensive data on BPL families to enable it to finalize the food security Bill.
The person cited above also said that the Planning Commission is likely to recommend to the eGoM that above poverty line, or APL, families be distributed foodgrains at normal market prices and not subsidized rates as prevails in some states.
Ahluwalia declined to comment on the outcome of the meeting.
The eGoM, which had finalized the Bill on 18 March, had to retrace its steps as Sonia Gandhi, chairman of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), wanted some key changes in the draft.
These included raising the quantity of rice and wheat to be supplied to the poor at subsidized rates to 35kg from 25kg a month and the inclusion of women, children and some other sections of society who don’t currently form a part of the official BPL list.
Y.K. Alagh, an economist who defined poverty in the 1970s, said the commission should have broken down the numbers further.
“What the Planning Commission should have done is address the issue of targeted groups, for instance, the inclusion of under-nourished mothers, girls, destitutes, etc., under the programme to make it more meaningful,” Alagh said.