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Will UPA manage to implement Food Security Bill before elections?

March 10, 2014 18:58 IST

Will UPA manage to implement Food Security Bill before elections?

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Sanjeeb Mukherji

The Food Security Bill, the flagship scheme of the UPA envisages distribution of grains between Rs 1-3/kg to around 70 per cent of the population. However, with just two months left for general elections, there is hardly anytime for the current government to draw up the list of beneficiaries.

State governments must identify people who qualify for subsidised grain by July 5, after which it is unclear what will happen to the law.

Cheap grain has been distributed to less than half the states and union territories, including Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Chandigarh, Uttarakhand, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh and Maharashtra.  

These states have started distributing five kg of rice, wheat or coarse cereals per person per month at Rs 3, Rs 2 and Re 1 per kg, respectively.

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Image: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with UPA chief Sonia Gandhi
Photographs: Reuters

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Will UPA manage to implement Food Security Bill before elections?

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However, the law requires all states to identify beneficiaries within a year of the Act's implementation - by July 5, 2014. With elections over the next two months, state governments will have little time to draw up their lists.  

"There is nothing in the Act to deal with state governments that do not identify beneficiaries within a year.

The food ministry will have to provide them grain at old rates and by the old method - the public distribution system cannot be disrupted," a senior food ministry official said.

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Image: States will have to draw out a list of beneficiaries of Food Security Bill by July 5
Photographs: Arko Datta/Reuters
Tags: UPA

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Will UPA manage to implement Food Security Bill before elections?

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A family gets 35 kg of cheap grain a month in the old rationing system. Families below the poverty line buy wheat at Rs 4.15 a kg and rice at Rs 5.65.  

The official said his ministry could consult the law department after July 5, 2014, if states failed to draw up their lists of beneficiaries. "There have been instances earlier when Central legislation has been implemented by state governments well past the deadline," the official pointed out  

The Union finance ministry, too, seems to have factored this in its subsidy projections for 2014-15. Officials said the subsidy would not balloon immediately because the food scheme might take a back seat for three to four months.

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Image: Poor families will get grains at Rs 1-3/kg under the Food Security Bill
Photographs: Ajay Verma/Reuters
Tags: UPA

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Will UPA manage to implement Food Security Bill before elections?

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The 2014-15 interim Budget provided Rs 1,15,000 crore (Rs 1150 billion) as food subsidy, of which Rs 88,500 crore (Rs 885 billion) was exclusively for the new law, almost the same as the 2013-14 Budget estimates of Rs 90,000 crore (Rs 900 billion).  

Finance ministry officials are of the view if the UPA does not return to power, the new government might not push UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi's pet welfare scheme.

The Bharatiya Janata Party has indicated it would review all the UPA's entitlement programmes.

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Image: If UPA does not come to power, Food Security Bill may not be implemented
Photographs: Reuters

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