PM sets up panel to review suggestions on food security Bill

PM sets up panel to review suggestions on food security Bill

New Delhi: The government is expediting the legislation on food security with a committee set up by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh being given a deadline of 7 December to give its views on the proposed Act, according to a person familiar with the situation who didn’t want to be named.

Singh has set up a committee under C. Rangarajan, who heads the Prime Minister’s economic advisory council, to give its views by 7 December on the recommendation of the National Advisory Council to create the food security Act. The other members of the panel include chief economic adviser Kaushik Basu and Sudha Pillai, member secretary, Planning Commission.

Separately, the agriculture ministry said on Friday that India may not be able to procure enough foodgrain to sell it at subsidized rates to 75% of the population, as proposed in the legislation.

The Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council, which sets the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) administration’s social agenda, had last month proposed that the right to food law should cover at least 75% of the population, which includes 90% of rural and 50% of urban families.

The government was “seriously concerned" about the availability of foodgrain, rather than the subsidy quotient required to implement the proposals suggested by the council, according to an agriculture ministry official.

“According to the International Grains Council, there would be a drop in wheat production, as it would be 643.9 million tonnes against last year’s 677 million tonnes," he said on the condition of anonymity. “India’s rabi (winter crop) production also would come down to 80.71 million tonnes."

The council, which met on Friday, has decided to leave the decision in this regard to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The NAC is working with the law ministry to prepare the draft legislation, said council member Narendra Jadhav, who is also a member of the Planning Commission, India’s apex planning body.

“The working group of NAC, which is meeting again on 9 and 10 December, will further finetune issues," Jadhav added.

On Thursday, the NAC’s working group on food security, convened by member Harsh Mander, discussed the various provisions of the draft national food security legislation.

The council is expected to meet again on 21 December.

The department of food and public distribution had raised objections to NAC’s suggestions for the proposed law, Mint had reported on 5 October.

According to the agriculture ministry, the foodgrain required for the proposals would be between 63.54 mt and 76.94 mt, and the subsidy cost would be between Rs86,643 crore and Rs1.14 trillion. Currently, the government spends Rs55,578 crore on food subsidies.