New Delhi: The food ministry is likely to seek cabinet approval for the draft national food security law as early as next week.

The contours of the proposed legislation have been finalized and have been distributed to other ministries for feedback, food minister K.V. Thomas told reporters on Thursday. “We are trying to bring it before the cabinet next Monday," Thomas said.

The proposed food security law is United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s dream legislation. It makes the right to food a legal right.

The law will cover 67% of India’s population and distribute rice at 3 per kg, wheat at 2 per kg and millets for 1 per kg, Thomas had said in an interview last month. The total foodgrain distribution under the proposed Bill is expected to be between 62 million tonnes (mt) and 64mt, the minister said.

“We are proposing to bring it in the first half of the budget session, then in the second half we can have a discussion and get it passed. The advantage is that the main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has supported it." Thomas had said in the interview.

Some experts say the proposed law ignores the rights of children.

“While the enactment of the Bill is an important step forward in a country like India, the Bill must address children’s right to food," said Reetika Khera, a food security expert at the Indian Institute of Technology. “The biggest drawback is that the Bill fails to address the concerns of children under the age of six, which is the group we need to target if we want to do something about under-nutrition."

The food minister also said on Thursday that India needs to increase wheat exports to ease pressure on storage facilities. A group of ministers, headed by agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, has allowed exports of an additional 5mt of wheat from the central pool by private traders last week.

Opportunities to export wheat are being explored, Thomas said. “We have missions abroad and they are exploring the export of wheat with several countries."

Total exports permitted from Food Corporation of India godowns now stands at 9.5mt for the current financial year.

India, the world’s second biggest wheat producer, has been struggling to manage huge stocks procured due to bumper crops over the past two years. Thomas had earlier said that the government expects to procure between 44-46mt this year compared with 39mt procured last year.

“The Indian wheat will be substantially out-priced in the international market within the next one month if India continues to sell at the current level of $305 (free on board) a tonne," said Tejinder Narang, an adviser at Emmsons International Ltd,a New Delhi-based exporter. “Within the next 15 days Ukraine is going to put pressure on the global market with its expected export of 300,000 tonnes of wheat at $260 a tonne."

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