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NAC consensus on food security

Smita Gupta

75% of population to get 35 kg of foodgrains; 20 kg for rest

NEW DELHI: After months of hard bargaining with the Planning Commission and the government, the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC) on Saturday appeared to have got a consensus on a universal food security system with legal guarantees, even though with differential entitlements.

However, the NAC has expanded the concept of below the poverty line (BPL)-PDS beneficiaries, virtually doubling their number to 75 per cent of the population, designating them as “priority households” and making them eligible to receive 35 kg of subsidised foodgrains (Re. 1 per kg for millets, Rs. 2 for wheat and Rs. 3 for rice) every month. The remaining 25 per cent – described as “general households” — will be entitled to 20 kg of foodgrains per household at a price pegged at 50 per cent of the Minimum Support Price (MSP).

The NAC-cleared food security framework, which will form the basis of the Bill to be drafted over the next month, also envisages legal guarantees for additional entitlements, beyond the PDS to address the nutritional requirements of the most vulnerable sections of society. Simultaneously, it has recommended a total overhaul of the PDS system. “This is a truly historic decision,” said Dr. Narendra Jadhav, who is a member of both the NAC and the Commission.

However, though this framework has been approved by the NAC and Ms. Gandhi, Dr. Jean Dreze, a member who played a key role in the first NAC, has written a dissent note, saying it “fails to abolish the artificial and divisive distinction between APL and BPL households” and takes “on board food procurement limits that reflect the government's reluctance to expand the PDS.”

NAC sources, expressing surprise at Dr. Dreze's dissent note, stressed that the NAC framework cleared was final. Indeed, this decision has already been “shared” with the Union Food Ministry, these sources said, adding that Ms. Gandhi, in her capacity as NAC chairperson, would be shortly writing to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, conveying these recommendations. This will then go to the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) on Food for final clearance.

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