While the Delhi and Haryana governments have declared that they are all set to roll-out the food security programme on August 20 -- Rajiv Gandhi’s birth anniversary -- there is confusion among the chief ministers about the implementation of the ordinance which gives the right to people to receive adequate quantity of food grains at affordable prices. Anita Katyal reports.
Although the ordinance has provided broad parameters that 75 per cent of rural and 50 per cent of the urban population will be entitled to five kgs of foodgrains at subsidised rates, the state governments are not clear about the criterion which is to be used to identify the beneficiaries.
While giving details about the provisions of the ordinance, Food Minister K V Thomas had said that the identification of the eligible households would be determined by the state governments on the basis of guidelines provided by the Centre. However, the chief ministers have yet to receive these guidelines.
Food ministry sources said the department had begun the process of drawing up the rules and regulations but conceded it was difficult to say when these would be finalised. The states have been given the option of using the Social Economic Caste Census data, being collected by the rural development ministry, for drawing up the lists of beneficiaries but it is not likely to be ready till November.
The other option is to use the data collated by the national sample survey office which is expected to be released shortly by the planning commission.
“The broad guidelines are to be prepared by the Centre but the actual identification of the beneficiaries is the job of the state governments,” remarked a senior food ministry official, adding that allocation and distribution of food grains can only take place after the exercise of identification of households is complete.
Admitting that the implementation of the mammoth programme could not be rushed, the food ministry is actually concerned at the haste with which state governments are rushing to implement this scheme.
Besides identification of the eligible households, the preparatory work involves also involves printing of the ration cards, putting in place the distribution network and the infrastructure for the storage of the foodgrains.
It is precisely for this reason that state ordinance provides state governments complete the identification of the beneficiaries within 180 days after its commencement. In fact, the food minister is expected to write to all chief ministers within the next few days in connection with the implementation of the provisions of the ordinance.
Fearing that state governments will inflate the demand for food grains, the letter will urge the state governments to take special care in identifying the beneficiaries.
However, Congress chief ministers are under pressure to implement this scheme expeditiously by party president Sonia Gandhi who had called them for a meeting last Saturday for this specific purpose.
Billed as a game changer, the Congress is banking on this scheme to change the current political narrative and pay it rich dividends in the year-end assembly polls and subsequently in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
While the Congress is leaning on its chief ministers to speed up the implementation of the scheme and both party and government spokespersons are busy publicising it, the United Progressive Alliance government heaved a sigh of relief today when Janata Dal-United leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar announced that his party would vote in favour of the bill.
Having shored up support for the ordinance, the government has decided to convene the monsoon session of Parliament from August 5 to 30. It had earlier decided to push back the monsoon session till the third week of August so that it would have sufficient time on its hand to implement the food security programme.
Although Samajwadi Patry leader Mulayum Singh Yadav has opposed the ordinance on the plea that it is anti-farmer, the Congress believes it will be difficult for him and the opposition parties to strike it down as they would then be accused of sabotaging a pro-poor programme.
Nobody can afford to take such a risk in an election year.