No use of farmland for industries: Food Bill

Written by Nistula Hebbar | Nistula Hebbar | Sandip Das | New Delhi | Updated: Dec 23 2011, 07:15am hrs
The Food Security Bill has put in a clause to restrict the diversion of agricultural land, a move that can become a headache for industry. The Bill also says the Centre will bear the expenses on giving grain at subsidised prices to 75% of the rural households and 50% of urban households under the proposed food security Bill, but would want states to share the financial burden for providing free grain and other nutritional benefits to expectant and lactating mothers.

States are unlikely to buy this proposal as many of them including Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Kerala have already expressed their displeasure with the centres move. According to the food security Bill introduced in Parliament on Thursday, the Centre envisages an annual cost of R13,500 crore for providing free grain to an estimated 2.25 crore pregnant and lactating women (six month after the child birth). Besides they shall be entitled to a maternity benefit of R1,000 per month for a period of six month.

For providing nutritional support to every child up to fourteen years, the bill has provision for a free meal at local anganwadi to all children between six months to six years and one free mid-day meal for the children in the age group of six and fourteen. The cost incurred for providing such meals would also have to be shared with state governments.

While stressing on revitalisation of agriculture for securing interest of small and marginal farmers through greater investment, the bill has also called for prohibiting unwarranted diversion of land and water from food production.

India needs more than 60 million tonne rice and wheat stocks a year to meet its obligation under the proposed Bill, according to a food ministry estimate. Significantly, the government has never procured 60 million tonne in a year. The governments annual food subsidy bill will rise to R93,000 crore a year once the proposed Act is implemented from the current level of around R63,000 crore, food minister KV Thomas had earlier said.

The food Bill also targets at diversification of procurement operations of Food Corporation of India and state agencies. It seeks incentives for decentralisation of procurement including procurement of coarse grain.

After tabling the Bill in Lok Sabha, Thomas said he would explain the merits of proposed legislation to chief ministers of Tamil Nadu and Bihar who have raised concerns over it.

"I will explain them the merits of the historic National Food Security Bill which promises food security for 63.5% of the countrys population," Thomas said.

On the quantum of rise in food subsidy bill for the government, Thomas said, "The implementation of the food law would require an additional amount of not more than about R20,000-21,000 crore annually by way of subsidy. He said the legislation merges many ongoing programmes meant for women, children and the poor section so that there is no extra financial burden.

While opposing the food Bill, Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa had said, The choice of designing and implementing popular welfare schemes is best left to the states. The union government should not attempt or be seen to attempt encroaching into the domains of the states."

Bihar, for instance, had termed the Bill as unilaterally imposed (creating) a substantial financial burden on the state government. Chief minister Nitish Kumar in a letter to Thomas had also observed that those states that have major incidence of poverty are the very states which are also facing an acute financial crunch.