Ministers’ panel proposes limits for National Food Security Bill

Ministers’ panel proposes limits for National Food Security Bill

New Delhi: An empowered group of ministers (eGoM) has urged the government to delink the proposed National Food Security Act (NFSA) from nutritional security and keep the issue price of wheat and rice flexible under the Act.

But a top official of the agriculture ministry said some members of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government want NFSA to be an “umbrella legislation" addressing social security concerns.

“The finance ministry is of the view that the definition of food security should be limited to foodgrain (wheat and rice) security," the official said, asking not to be identified. “A final decision will be taken by the Congress political leadership only."

NFSA was among key promises made by the Congress in its manifesto ahead of the 2009 general election. It aims to provide every poor family 25kg of rice or wheat every month at Rs3 per kg.

Although the eGoM, in its meeting on 12 February, suggested merging welfare schemes meant for individuals under the Targeted Public Distribution System, it also proposed that schemes for institutions continue independently.

According to the minutes of the meeting—reviewed by Mint—the issue price of Rs3 per kg of wheat or rice for below poverty line (BPL) families “is to remain valid only for the period of the mandate of the present government and, hence, should not (be) specified in the Act".

The eGoM also suggested that the law require state governments to pay a food security allowance if they are unable to provide the entitled quantity of food to the beneficiaries.

It should also be “mandatory for state governments to take up reforms for effective delivery of entitled foodgrains to targeted families", it added.

A draft Bill, prepared before the meeting, addresses the issue of nutritional security.

It proposes two meals with vitamin A and iron content in anganwadis—or government-run mother and child care centres—making nutrition health a compulsory part of the curriculum. The draft Bill also calls for more anganwadis equipped with crèches for working women and higher salaries for anganwadi workers.

The draft Bill says fair price shops should be managed by government or semi-governmental organizations or by village councils, and that items distributed under the public distribution systems be delivered at the doorsteps of BPL families.

It proposes Rs400 per month as pension for widows, senior citizens and the disabled, and Rs1,000 as maternity allowance for pregnant woman for six months from their seventh month of pregnancy.

The final draft, which will include the eGoM’s suggestions, is likely to be in the public domain soon.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi, addressing party lawmakers on Thursday, said: “We are now ready for the next step of placing the draft food security Bill for discussion in the public domain."