NEW DELHI: The Modi government promises a 40% increase in the supply of heavily subsidised grain as it seeks to expand coverage under the food security law, a move that can inflate the subsidy bill and disappoint critics who thought the new regime would abandon UPA’s entitlement-based approach.
Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan said monthly entitlement of 5 kg foodgrain per person under food security law was meagre. “The focus of the government will be on providing food security to all. With huge stocks of grain in the country we want to increase monthly entitlement to 7 kg,” he told ET in an interview. He said the food law passed by the previous government was inadequate.
I feel the Food Security Act was prepared hurriedly. In my understanding during three months in government, it does not have clear concepts,” Paswan said.
He said Modi himself, when he was chief minister of Gujarat, had observed that the grain provided under the Act was too less.
Paswan was silent about the food subsidy bill, which is already projected to be Rs 1.15 lakh crore this year, but analysts said additional grain would cost a lot of money.
Tejinder Narang, a Delhi-based analyst said the bill may rise by about 15% apart from starving the open market, which would raise prices. Pramod Joshi, director, International Food Policy Research Institute, said if the government is raising the quantity of susbsidised grain it would also be looking at steps like focusing on the poorest households and direct cash transfers subsidies following the campaign to open bank accounts.
The issue of food security came to the centre stage last year when Sonia Gandhi spearheaded the food security law in the last year of the UPA government.
It aims to give over 61 million tonnes of wheat, rice and coarse grains priced between Re 1 and Rs 3 per kg to 81 crore people. The law was seen as a key tool in the Congress party’s bid to be voted back to power but it was eventually trounced by Modi-led BJP. The Bharatiya Janata Party had earlier showcased the food security apparatus in states ruled by the party as better solutions for combating hunger and deprivation.
Paswan said welfare of the people was a key priority and the Central government would not budge from its position despite international pressure to change its stance to facilitate an agreement under the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Some analysts say the issue of food security may be raised during Modi’s visit to the US. Paswan said there was a huge difference in the mindset of a developing and developed country.
“We are a welfare state and we have a public responsibility. We have to protect the interest of farmers and the poor man. Not just USA, but some of our own experts feel that subsidy should end,” he said. Paswan said it was a huge challenge to store grain and check leakages in transportation and distribution.
A high-powered committee under Himachal Pradesh MP Shanta Kumar would submit its report in three months on restructuring Food Corporation of India (FCI).
He said there were numerous complaints about irregularities in the FCI, the biggest organisation under its ministry. “The first major problem is on damage. Products that come from FCI godown or from rakes is not of proper quality. Sometimes it doesn’t reach fair price shops or beneficiaries,” the food minister said. “It goes to the open market. Quality is only on paper, not physically. Sometimes, we find grain rotting in the open. There is nobody to buy it. If it has been bought, then it is not stored properly,” he added.