Food security Bill likely in next session, says Thomas

Written by Banikinkar Pattanayak | Idukki (Kerala) | Updated: Sep 29 2012, 10:03am hrs
Amid a flurry of activity to push reforms anew to boost the economy, the government will seek approval for the food security Bill in the next session of Parliament. The Cabinet may also soon decide on the amendments to the Forward Contract Regulation (Amendment) Bill as well as additional subsidised grain sales to bulk buyers aimed at curbing prices of wheat products, food minister KV Thomas told FE on Friday.

In August, the term of the previous parliamentary standing committee (on the food security Bill) expired. The new committee is being formed under the same chairman, Vilas Muttemwar. When the standing committee gives its report, we will study it and go to the Cabinet... We are working hard to bring this Bill for approval in the next session of Parliament, Thomas said.

The proposed Bill aims to provide legal entitlement for subsidised grain to around 63.5% of the countrys population. Provisional estimates suggest the government needs as much as 63 million tonnes (mt) of grain to implement the Bill, nearly 8 mt higher than the current requirements. However, the Bill, once enacted, may drive up the governments annual food subsidy bill to R1,19,000 crore, compared with R72,823 crore in 2011-12.

The minister also said the FCRA Bill is already with the Cabinet, and a decision on it could be taken soon. The FCRA Bill, which provides for tougher oversight and freer entry of financial institutions, as well as launches of new products such as options and derivatives, got back on the radar after the Trinamool Congress pulled out of the government.

Last month, the Cabinet had to defer a decision on the Bill after Trinamool MP and then railway minister Mukul Roy wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seeking a broader consensus among political parties as well as states before approving it. The bill has been hanging fire for a long time now, while periodic bans on trading in some agricultural futures on fears they stoke inflation have fed regulatory cynicism.

Thomas said the food ministry would soon approach the Cabinet to consider more subsidised wheat supplies to bulk buyers. However, he warned that the government may have to reconsider its decision to allocate additional subsidised wheat to bulk buyers such as roller flour millers if they don't pass on the benefits to consumers. "When I am giving wheat at subsidised rates, they should reduce atta prices. They have not done it. They have cartelised," Thomas said.

The government has already allocated 3 million tonnes of subsidised wheat to bulk consumers, out of which 2.3 million tonnes have been lifted by them. Still, they haven't cut prices of wheat products, the minister said.