When the UPA government brought Food Security Bill, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had felt that the coverage of 67 per cent population under it was too high but did not oppose then because of the fear of being branded “anti-poor”, a senior party leader said here today.
BJP then decided to undertake the course correction when it came to power, said Shanta Kumar, who headed a high-level panel which has recommended bringing down the coverage percentage to 40 per cent.
“When the Act came, people in our party felt 67 per cent coverage was high. Ahead of elections, the food law was implemented for vote security and not for food security. As an Opposition party, we had to support it due to political compulsion,” Kumar said when asked why the panel favours revisit of the food law which the BJP had supported it.
“It was our thinking that when we come to power, we would correct this and balance the coverage. Had we opposed the law ahead of elections, people would have called us anti-poor,” he said about the bill passed by Parliament in September 2013, some months before the Lok Sabha elections in April-May 2014.
The panel has observed that “the financial burden of this programme (food law) is already becoming unsustainable, and unless some drastic steps are taken to reform this, the situation is going to become worse very soon.”
Asked why the panel has looked beyond its agenda on the FCI restructuring issue and dealt on food law, Kumar said, “All issues are inter-connected and efforts are made to reorient the role of FCI for the present need.”
“The problem of relying on existing PDS to implement food law is that PDS suffers from large leakages and a desirable solution to FCI’s restructuring cannot be found unless one looks at this issue of food security somewhat holistically, the panel said in the report.
The budgeted food subsidy for the 2014-15 fiscal is Rs 1.15 lakh crores and there are pending arrears of almost Rs 50,000 crores that need to be cleared on account of food subsidy, it added.