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Food bill in budget session: minister

Food bill in budget session: minister

New Delhi: The Congress-led UPA government wants to pass the National Food Security Bill during parliament's budget session beginning Feb 21 and will protect the interest of the states, Food Minister K.V. Thomas said Thursday.

"We hope to introduce the bill in the last week of the first half of the budget session and pass it in the second half," Thomas told reporters.

He said many states Wednesday expressed reservations on the provisions of the proposed bill, especially on subsidised grain allocation, with Tamil Nadu saying it wanted to stay out of it.

"We will protect the current subsidised grain allocation of the states...we hope Tamil Nadu will also come around to our view," said Thomas.

The food ministry had held detailed discussions with the state ministers Wednesday.

The revised bill will be finalised based on the agreements reached with the states, he said.

The points of convergence are overall 67 percent of the 1.2 billion population to be covered with the beneficiaries entitled to five kg grain per person per month at Rs.3 per kg for rice, Rs.2 for wheat and Re.1 for coarse grain.

Many states expressed differences on the quantity of grain to be given at subsidised rates under the bill and on who would be the beneficiaries.

Thomas said the states would identify the beneficiaries based on the inclusion and exclusion criteria agreed between them and the centre.

Welcoming states who run their own subsidised food schemes, the minister said state laws will be dependent on the central law as it gives subsidy on the grain.

"There will be no conflict with state laws," said Thomas.

He said the food security bill would be implemented in consultation with the states, many of whom have asked for a one year window to prepare for it.

Bihar, Orissa, Punjab and Gujarat want the government to modernise the public distribution system (PDS) before implementing the proposed law.

"Distribution is key to implementation of the bill," said Thomas.

The proposed bill, part of the Congress manifesto in the 2009 general elections, is expected to be the flagship legislation of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA-II) in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

"It is a pro-poor bill... it is a dream project of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi," said Thomas. "It aims at protection of lifecycle of the poor people."

The bill will add Rs.20,000 crore more to the Rs.1 lakh crore food subsidy at present.

Also, food grain requirement under the bill will go up from 55 million tonnes to between 60-62 million tonnes.

The bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in December 2011 and sent to a parliamentary standing committee. The revised bill is being worked out on the basis of the panel's recommendations, Thomas said.

While states like Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh wanted universal PDS, Orissa, Kerala and Bihar said the quantity of 5 kg grain per person per month suggested by the parliamentary panel was not sufficient.


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