President Pranab Mukherjee today signed the food security ordinance aimed at ensuring the ruling Congress party a victory in the Lok Sabha elections due next year, almost on the lines of the rural employment scheme MNREGA brought in by the previous UPA government in 2005.
The government today promulgated the food security programme, which was earlier introduced as a bill, through a presidential ordinance, amidst criticism from the opposition and the media over the government's reluctance to discuss the bill in Parliament.
The union cabinet on Wednesday decided to hurry through the legislation that would entitle two-thirds of the nation's population the right to 5 kg of foodgrain every month at highly subsidised rates of Rs1-3 per kg through an ordinance instead.
Under the food security programme, which would bring two-thirds of the country's 1.2 billion population under Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), up to 75 per cent of the rural population and up to 50 per cent of the urban population will have uniform entitlement of 5 kg foodgrains per month at highly subsidised prices of Rs3, Rs2, Re1 per kg, for rice, wheat and coarse grains, respectively.
The poorest of poor households would continue to receive 35 kg foodgrains per household per month under Antyodaya Anna Yajna at subsidised prices of Rs3, Rs2 and Re1.
Existing allocation of foodgrains to the states and union territories under the PDS will continue but will be restricted to average annual offtake during the last three years.
The central government will decide the state-wise coverage corresponding to the 75 per cent rural and 50 per cent urban population at the all India level while the work of identification of eligible households will be left to the states and union territories, which may frame their own criteria or use socio-economic and caste census data as the case may be.
The central government does not, however, assure uninterrupted supply of foodgrains or meals to entitles persons from the central pool.
''In case of non-supply of foodgrains or meals to entitled persons, the concerned state and union territories governments will be required to provide such food security allowance as may be prescribed by the central government to the beneficiaries,'' the ordinance says.
States will get central assistance for intra-state transportation and handling of foodgrains the centre will also provide assistance to states towards cost of intra-state transportation, handling of foodgrains and FPS dealers' margin, for which norms will be developed.
Nutritional support: Under the focus on nutritional support, pregnant women and lactating mothers, besides being entitled to nutritious meals as per the prescribed nutritional norms will also receive maternity benefit of at least of Rs6,000. Children in the age group of 6 months to 14 years will be entitled to take home ration or cooked food as per prescribed nutritional norms.
The ordinance also contains provisions for reforms in PDS through doorstep delivery of foodgrains, application of information and communication technology (ICT), including end-to-end computerisation, leveraging 'Aadhaar' for unique identification of beneficiaries, diversification of commodities under TPDS etc for effective implementation of the Food Security Act.
The original food security bill envisaged Rs1,25,000 crore government support for the programme, obviously the largest in the world.
But the opposition parties, especially the Samajwadi Party headed by Mulayam Singh Yadav, has accused the Congress of indulging in vote bank politics and said its intentions were not good.
As Lok Sabha elections are near, the Congress is bringing the ordinance like it had brought the rural employment scheme MNREGA before the previous polls, he said.
The Congress defended the ordinance saying the government did all it could to convene a special session on the food bill but the opposition did not agree to a special session.
Food minister KV Thomas, meanwhile, said he would start outlining an implementation plan for the food security ordinance soon. He also said the government is planning an enhanced grain storage capacity of 78 million tonnes and would soon fix leakages in public distribution system.