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Cabinet clears Food Security Bill, to be tabled in Parliament this week

posted Dec 18, 2011, 1:20 PM by Puneet Goyal
Nitin Sethi, TNN | Dec 19, 2011, 01.16AM IST
NEW DELHI: After a prod by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, the Cabinet on Sunday clearedthe National Food Security Bill at a specially convened meeting to table it in Parliament this week.

The bill, meant to provide subsidized foodgrains to people, brought to the Cabinet by food and public distribution minister K V Thomas, was approved without a hitch in a meeting that lasted under an hour.

The bill, which the UPA will table in Parliament in the hope of gaining some political dividend in the crucial Uttar Pradesh elections, seeks to cover 75% of the rural population and 50% of urban population in the country. Initial estimates suggest that the food subsidy bill could be upwards of Rs 1 lakh crore.

A minimum of 46% of the rural population and 28% urban population will get 7 kg of foodgrains per month per person. Rice would be provided at Rs 3 a kg, wheat at Rs 2 and coarse grains at Rs 1 a kg.

The rest of the targeted population would get 3 kg of grains per person per month at half the minimum support price offered to farmers by government during procurement. Existing nutrition and select social security schemes would also be brought under the legislation as an entitlement.

After having ensured clearance for a bill seen as the Congress president's pet project and a key element in the party's strategy for 2014 general elections, Thomas said, "With this, we fulfill our commitment to the people of India made first in the Congress manifesto in 2009."

Thomas met PM Manmohan Singh on Sunday just ahead of the Cabinet meeting and explained in detail the proposals as well as responses that had been elicited from various states. Thomas explained the financial ramifications of the bill to the PM as well as the foodgrain requirements and storage capacities that would need to be built up in the coming days. The inclusion of existing social security and nutrition schemes under the bill was also discussed with the PM with the cabinet secretary and V Narayanasamy, minister of state in the PMO.

The fact that Congress wants the bill tabled as soon as possible was evident when minutes of the Cabinet meeting and the final decision were communicated within minutes of the meeting's end.

The total number of beneficiaries to be covered by the bill would depend upon the results of the delayed Socio-Economic and Caste Census currently underway. While the government had moved closer to the recommendations of Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council, it has left the door open to play with the absolute numbers through the use of 'deprivation parameters' in the census data.