The Lok Sabha on Monday passed the Food Security Bill, described by the ruling coalition as historic and critics as fiscally irresponsible. The Bill will now go to the Rajya Sabha.
The voting followed considerable delays caused by frequent adjournments and a lack of political consensus. The UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi made a fervent plea to all political parties to set aside differences and support the Bill ‘for wiping out hunger and malnutrition’.
As per the proposed legislation, up to 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population will have uniform entitlement of 5 kg foodgrains per month at highly subsidized prices of R3, R2, and R1 per kg for rice, wheat, and coarse grains respectively. The proposed food law would entitle about two thirds of the country’s 1.2 billion population to subsidised foodgrains under the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS).
Besides, about 2.43 crore poorest of the poor families covered under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) scheme under the existing TPDS would continue to get 35 kg of foodgrains per family per month but with legal entitlement.
“The question is not whether we have enough resources or not and whether it would benefit the farmers or not. We have to arrange resources for it. We have to do it,” Gandhi said, referring to the expected rise in Food Security Bill for the government. Thanks to the proposed legislation, the government’s annual food subsidy bill is expected to rise to R1.25 lakh crore from the current level of R80,000 crore.
While acknowledging the need to reform and modernise the existing TPDS prior to the implementation of the food security law, Gandhi noted that there was a basic need to remove leakages to ensure that benefits of the food Bill reached the intended beneficiaries.
Speaking on behalf of the principal Opposition party — BJP, Murali Manohar Joshi questioned where the funds would come from for implementation of the Bill.
“What is adequate food? Is it going to be based on purchasing power, calorific value or nutrition?... You mention eligible households. What if it is only single person? You (the government) should