Food min rejects universal PDS plea

Written by Sandip Das | New Delhi | Updated: Aug 19 2013, 16:48pm hrs
Two days before the parliamentary debate, food minister KV Thomas on Sunday ruled out a demand from various political parties to universalise the public distribution system (PDS) against 67% coverage envisaged in the National Food Security Bill, 2013.

After long deliberations in the parliamentary standing committee, we have decided to cap grain procurement under the food security legislation to 60 to 61 million tonne, which is about 30% of the total production of rice and wheat in the country, Thomas told FE.

Thomas said if more foodgrains are procured by the Food Corporation of India (FCI) from the farmers then it would distort the market and would result in a higher subsidy burden on the government. There is a limit to which we can procure foodgrain, otherwise it would lead to higher inflation, he said.

Thomas said that when there is a pilferage of 20% to 30% in the foodgrains supplied under the existing targeted PDS, universaling the distribution of highly subsidised foodgrains would lead to distortion of market and a hefty hike in subsidy.

The Lok Sabha is slated to discuss the National Food Security Bill on Tuesday.

Since the introduction of Food Security Bill, 2013 in Parliament recently, political parties moved several amendments which include demand for universalising PDS.

The left parties such as CPM have moved many amendments such as hike in entitlements to 7 kg per person per month from the 5 kg mentioned in the Bill.

The food security law guarantees 5 kg of rice, wheat and coarse cereals a month per person at a fixed price of Rs 3, 2 and 1, respectively. However, about 2.43 crore of the poorest of the poor families covered under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana scheme in the existing TPDS will continue to get 35 kg of foodgrains per family per month, but with legal entitlement. The Food Subsidy Bill, following implementation of legislation, is set to increase to Rs 1.25 lakh crore from the current level of Rs 80,000 crore. We will accommodate all the reasonable demands in the food Bill and we are taking a balanced approach between fiscal consideration and providing deserving families with subsdised food grains, he said.

Thomas said FCI has 'enough' stock in excess of 77 mt at present against an annual requirement of 62 mt under the food security law.