2/3rd of population to get foodgrain at Rs 1-3/kg

New Delhi: The Cabinet on Tuesday approved changes to the landmark Food Security Bill to grant the nation's 67 per cent population the right to get monthly quota of 5 kg foodgrains at highly subsidised rates of Rs 1-3 per kg.

The amendments to the Bill will guarantee 5 kg of foodgrains per person per month, while families in the poorest of the poor will continue to get 35 kg of grains per month.

"The revised Food Bill has been cleared by Cabinet. We will try to bring amendments to the Food Bill in Parliament before Friday," Food Minister K V Thomas told reporters here.

The government intends to get the revised bill passed in the current session of Parliament that ends on May 10.

Over 55-56 amendments to the bill have been made in line with the suggestions made by the Parliamentary Standing Committee, which submitted its report in January this year.

Rice will be sold through ration shops at Rs 3 per kg, wheat at Rs 2 and millets at Re 1 in the first three years of the implementation of the Act. This is much lower than the market price of over Rs 20/kg for rice and Rs 16/kg for wheat.

The beneficiaries would be decided by state governments, while the criteria to exclude 33 per cent of population would be provided by the Planning Commission, Thomas said.

About 62 million tonnes of foodgrains would be required to implement the bill, while the food subsidy is estimated at Rs 1,24,747 crore at 2013-14 costs, which is Rs 23,800 crore higher than the existing level.

Instead of dividing beneficiaries into two categories – priority and general households – with different entitlement and price, the revised bill proposes only one category of beneficiary with uniform entitlement of 5 kg per person per month at uniform price of Rs 1-3/kg for all beneficiaries.

In the original bill, introduced in the Lok Sabha in December 2011, the Centre had proposed 7 kg of rice or wheat or millet a month for priority category at Rs 3, Rs 2 and Re 1 per kg respectively, while at least 3 kg per person per month for general households at 50 per cent of support price.

The Food bill, the pet project of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, was promised during 2009 elections. It is seen as a major plank by the Congress for 2014 general elections.

As per the revised bill, the general households stand to gain as they would now be entitled for higher quantity at a lower price.

"The amendments seek to make the framework of the proposed legislation simpler, provide more flexibility to states in its implementation and to address some of the concerns raised by them," an official said.

The revised bill has sought to take care of concerns aired by states by protecting existing foodgrains allocation to them subject to their average offtake in last three years.

The Centre would also provide financial assistance to states for meeting expenses of transportation, handling of foodgrains and margins to ration shops dealers.

To provide nutritional security to women, the bill has amended to pay at least Rs 6,000 as maternity benefit in instalments to be decided later. Earlier, it was Rs 1,000 per month for six months.

The prices at which foodgrains would be supplied under the revised bill is much lower than the rate at which the Centre is presently supplying wheat and rice via ration shops.

Under the current public distribution system (PDS), BPL and AAY families get 35kg of foodgrains per month, while the allocations for APL families range between 15kg to 35kg.

Currently, rice is supplied to AAY families at Rs 3/kg, BPL families at Rs 5.65/kg and APL families at Rs 8.30/kg.

Wheat is sold at Rs 2/kg to AAY families, while BPL gets wheat at Rs 4.15/kg and APL at Rs 6.10/kg.