In letters to the PM, they seek state-specific provisions and funds to implement food bill
Prasanna Mohanty | February 14, 2013
The chief ministers of Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh have expressed their strong protest against the proposed food security bill in their letters to the prime minister.
Their main grouse are against some of the basic features of the bill – uniform exclusion criteria and limits in terms of percentage of population to be covered, fixing per capita entitlement in place of household entitlement, financial burden on the states and unilateral fixing of limits and eligibility.
Additionally, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has sought cash transfer instead of supply of food through the PDS and questioned the bill’s mere references to revitalisation of agriculture, procurement and storage process and access to drinking water, healthcare and sanitation without giving a roadmap or an action plan.
All the three chief ministers were reacting to the proposed bill following the parliamentary standing committee’s recommendations. The key points of the proposed bill are: restricting the number of beneficiaries to 50 percent of the urban and 75 percent of the rural population and per capita entitlement of 5 kg of food grain per month.
The centre is planning to introduce and pass the bill in the budget session.
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav has, in his letter, pointed out that uniform restriction on the number of beneficiaries is unfair to a poor state like his as it has a larger share of people below the poverty line. He says the Tendulkar committee had shown that UP had 37.7 percent BPL families as against the national average of 29.8 percent. Besides, per capita income of UP for 2009-10 stood at Rs 23,392 while the national average was Rs 46,117.
Yadav has in fact demanded universal coverage by seeking 100 percent coverage of the rural population and 95 percent of urban population.
Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh is also opposed to an arbitrary fixing of the coverage in terms of percentage of population and says the Chhattisgarh Food Security Act, 2012, has done away with it.
He is also opposed to changing the entitlement to 5 kg per head, saying that this would fail to meet the need of families with less than five members. The entitlement should be fixed at 35 kg per household, instead.
It is Nitish Kumar’s letter that takes a more strident position, questioning the rationale of fixing an uniform criteria for all states, irrespective of their financial conditions and population of BPL families. He also questions the centre for not consulting the states while fixing limits or deciding the eligibility criteria.
As against Yadav and Singh, he is asking the centre to give cash transfers, rather than food, and bear the entire financial burden. He has suggested a BPL commission to identify, authenticate and update the BPL list in a transparent manner. In case the centre went for food, not cash, then it should provide funds to set up the required infrastructure.
Several other states have also questioned one exclusion criteria and limit for all states, per capita entitlement and additional financial burden the food bill will entail at a consultation meeting held with the food ministers of the states on Wednesday. Their suggestions were more in line with the issues raised by the chief ministers.
The MoS for food at the centre, KV Thomas, has assured the state ministers to revise the bill keeping their suggestions in mind.
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