Full NFSA roll-out not in this fiscal

By: | Published: July 8, 2015 1:18 AM

The countrywide roll-out of the much-touted National Food Security Act (NFSA) seems unlikely even this fiscal, with a clutch of major states including Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat seeking more time to finalise and digitise the beneficiary lists and complete end-to-end computerisation of the public distribution system (PDS).

 

National Food Security ActThe Centre’s food subsidy burden in FY16 is budgeted to be Rs 1.24 lakh crore, up just 1.4% over the revised estimate for last year, which was higher by the previous year’s outgo by a third. (PTI)

The countrywide roll-out of the much-touted National Food Security Act (NFSA) seems unlikely even this fiscal, with a clutch of major states including Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat seeking more time to finalise and digitise the beneficiary lists and complete end-to-end computerisation of the public distribution system (PDS).

While these states have expressed their inability to be fully prepared for NFSA implementation even by the latest deadline (September 30) at a meeting with Union food minister Ram Vilas Paswan here on Tuesday, the earliest it could be rolled out across India, official sources told FE, could be December 2015. However, they added that a more realistic date could be April 1, 2016.

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The NFSA was approved by Parliament in September 2013 when the UPA government was in power; although the Narendra Modi government has not denounced it, it could not implement it in all states in FY15 due to administrative bottlenecks cited by states.

A high-profile initiative of the last UPA government, NFSA had caught global attention for its sheer scale and ambition — highly subsidised grains to 67% of the country’s population. At the World Trade Organisation, the Act became a talking point as developed-world members argued that global farm commodity markets could be distorted by India’s public stock-holding for food security.

A committee headed by senior BJP leader and former food minister Shanta Kumar had recommended a second look at NFSA, its commitments and implementation.

The committee argued that the coverage of food security should be brought down to around 40% of the population, which will comfortably cover families below the poverty line (BPL) and some from even among above poverty line sections. Although the committee said the NFSA in the present form could undermine the targeted public distribution system, now running creditably in many states, the Prime Minister himself had ruled out accepting these proposals.

At Tuesday’s meeting of state food ministers called by Paswan, sources said, UP, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir and Kerala sought more time to roll out NFSA while Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Odisha, Jharkhand and Lakshadweep agreed to meet the September 30 deadline.

“Finally most states have agreed to implement the NFSA by December, after the latest deadline ends in September,” Paswan said. He, however, added that as many states were yet to put beneficiary lists online and complete end-to-end computerisation of PDS, the Centre would later take a call on whether to extend the new deadline.

The Centre’s food subsidy burden in FY16 is budgeted to be Rs 1.24 lakh crore, up just 1.4% over the revised estimate for last year, which was higher by the previous year’s outgo by a third.

Twelve states and Union Territories have so far implemented the Act, some fully and others partially. Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab and Rajasthan have fully implemented the law while Bihar, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Chandigarh and West Bengal have implemented it in a few districts/areas.

The deadline for implementation of NFSA had been extended three times so far. “We are not able to stop diversion of grain because of lack of transparency in PDS beneficiary list and non-completion of computerisation of grain delivery and transportation mechanism,” Paswan told FE.

Earlier, in a fiat sent to the states, the Union food ministry had stated that those not implementing NFSA by September 30 would not be eligible for any need-based extra allocation of foodgrains beyond their PDS requirements. However, Paswan admitted that it would not be easy for the food ministry to impose such conditions on states.

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