NAC a step closer to food security law

NAC a step closer to food security law

New Delhi: The National Advisory Council (NAC) moved a step closer to finalizing its proposal on food security legislation and is expected to clinch the matter when it reconvenes on 24 September.

“We are fairly close to concluding," said an NAC member who did not want to be identified.

At its two-hour-long meeting on Monday, the NAC, headed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, for the first time discussed the fiscal impact of universal food security, and estimated that it would cost way beyond what the government exchequer could afford at this stage when it is undertaking fiscal consolidation, said a person familiar with the development.

The NAC serves as the political interface between the government and the Congress.

Monday’s meeting was also supposed to review the role of the unique identity programme in the public distribution system (PDS), with Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) chairman Nandan Nilekani making a presentation on integrating it with the ID programme. However, the presentation did not take place as Gandhi had to return to the Lok Sabha.

The NAC discussed the findings of various working groups and estimated that the cost of funding a universal food security programme would be upwards of Rs90,000 crore—nearly double what the government has budgeted to spend on its marquee Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS).

To get a better sense of the numbers, some of the members have been directed to interact with the ministries that are most involved.

“For the food security Bill, some options will now be discussed with the ministry. The options are that (a) 80% of the population will get rice or wheat at Rs3 per kg up to 35kg and (b) 40-42% will get at that price, based on the Tendulkar formula in the respective state. The rest will get up to 25kg at a higher price. What the higher price would be hasn’t been decided yet," said another NAC member.

The NAC also reiterated support for the inclusion of nutritional security—as suggested by the various directives of the Supreme Court—as proposed in the initial draft. “It’s going to be an umbrella legislation with respect to all aspects of food. It would include other aspects like nutrition, mid-day meals, ICDS (Integrated Child Development Scheme), free community kitchens, etc.," an NAC member said.

The food security Bill seeks to provide legal rights to the poor to be provided a fixed quantity of rice or wheat at Rs3 per kg. The initial draft said coverage would be restricted to below-poverty-line households.