Categorise households for legal entitlement of foodgrain: NAC

New Delhi, Oct 23 (IANS) The National Advisory Council (NAC), chaired by Sonia Gandhi, Saturday urged the government to move beyond the below poverty line (BPL) criteria and recommended ‘priority’ and ‘general’ categories for legal entitlement of foodgrain under the proposed food security act.

‘The priority households (46 percent in rural areas and 28 percent in urban areas) should have a monthly entitlement of 35 kg (equivalent to 7 kg per person) at a subsidised price of Re.1 per kg for millets, Rs.2 for wheat and Rs.3 for rice. Rural coverage can be adjusted state-wise based on the Planning Commission’s 2004-5 poverty estimates,’ said a release issued by the NAC after its sixth meeting Saturday.

The NAC suggested that the general households (44 percent in rural areas and 22 percent in urban areas) should have a monthly entitlement of 20 kg (equivalent to 4 kg per person) at a price not exceeding 50 percent of the current Minimum Support Price for millets, wheat and rice.

‘The Government of India should specify the criteria for categorisation of population into priority and general households,’ the NAC said.

‘Legal entitlements to subsidised foodgrains should be extended to at least 75 percent of the country’s population – 90 percent in rural areas and 50 percent in urban areas,’ the NAC said.

A panel member said that the NAC has recommended to the government to implement the first phase of food security law from the beginning of next financial year.

‘The NAC recommends that in the first phase, food entitlement should be extended to 85 percent of the rural population and 40 percent of the urban population,’ it said.

The NAC also asked the government to plan for coverage of the entire country by 2014.

According to NAC member Narendra Jadhav, an additional Rs.15,137 crore might have to be spent in food subsidies in the first phase. Currently, the government provides Rs.56,700 crore for food subsidy.

The additional cost will be Rs.23,231 crore after the implementation of the act’s final phase, he said.

Jadhav said the panel is ‘obviating’ the need to look at the BPL data.

‘Starting from the top, we have decided to knock off 15 percent of the most affluent section from the rural areas and 60 percent from the urban areas and including the rest under the food security net,’ Jadhav told reporters.

The NAC, while finalising its recommendations, said the minimum coverage and entitlements as well as prices should remain unchanged at least until the end of the 12th Five Year Plan.

The draft bill now come up before the cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, for clearance, after which it will be tabled in parliament, officials said.

The proposed food security act was part of the Congress party manifesto for the last Lok Sabha elections in 2009, promising 25 kg of rice or wheat per month at Rs.3 per kg for every impoverished family with legal sanction.

An empowered ministerial group had then cleared the draft bill in March this year, on the same line as what had been proposed in the Congress manifesto. But the National Advisory Council had wanted its scope to expand to 35 kg per family.