New Delhi: UPA II's most ambitious bill, the Food Bill, is a step closer to becoming law. The Cabinet is meeting amidst strong hopes that it will clear the Food Bill for passing in Parliament. The Congress believes the Food Bill, which was first tabled in 2011 will be a game changer. However, it may not be an easy rood for UPA's dream project, as it may face opposition from states that have their own food policies.
"Under the present system of the targeted public distribution system there is no legal entitlement. If the government of India has foodgrain and states are prepared to distribute it, they do so. From that position, now both the government of India and states are legally bound to provide foodgrain," Food Minister KV Thomas said.
In its present shape the final bill guarantees:
- Uniform coverage to 67 per cent of the total population.
- 75 per cent coverage in rural areas and 50 per cent in urban areas.
- It does away with the Below Poverty Line and Above Poverty Line distinction.
- 5 kg of rice at Rs 3, wheat at Rs 2 or coarse cereals at Rs 1 per kilo per person per month.
- 35 kg per household for the poorest of the poor.
- Additional 5 kg of foodgrain for pregnant women.
- To review entitlements and prices every three years.
When it becomes law, the government would need an additional 2 million tonnes of foodgrain and Rs 25,000 crore. But apart from the cost, there are other contentious issues. Chhattisgarh for instance has its own food security law, and Tamil Nadu has historically given away rice at Rs 1.
"This is a central legislation. It has got some peculiar characteristics and powers. We don't expect a confrontation with the states," Thomas said.
The criteria that would exclude 33 per cent of the population is yet to be clearly defined by the government. While 14 states bear the transportation costs, many others want to pass it on to the central government. These are some of the issues that are yet to be resolved, but the UPA is hoping that the right to food will be the game changer for the party in 2014 as MNREGS was perceived to be in 2009.