Food Ministers’ meet on February 13 - The New Indian Express

Food Ministers’ meet on February 13

Published: 06th February 2013 08:53 AM

Last Updated: 06th February 2013 08:53 AM

Following the pressure from UPA chief Sonia Gandhi to get the Centre’s ambitious Food Security Bill (FSB) passed during the upcoming Budget session of the Lok Sabha, Union Food Minister K V Thomas has convened a meeting of the state Food Ministers here on February 13.

And the conclave is part of the Centre’s efforts to hardsell the landmark legislation which, if passed, will come with a slew of Central incentives to facilitate its implementation. Also, the time-frame as well as the logistics for the FSB’s implementation will figure in the discussions.

The Centre is well aware that the cooperation and feedback from the states are crucial to the flagship programme’s eventual success.

The ministers’ meet is being hurriedly organised so that the Bill can be be taken up by Parliament in the last week of the first half of the upcoming Budget session. A desperate Thomas, sources said, has been calling up the state ministers individually in the past few days to ensure full attendance.

Incidentally, the Centre is pressing ahead with the Bill despite the strong reservations expressed by Union Agriculture Minister and NCP chief Sharad Pawar. If the Bill were to be passed, the food subsidy would cost the exchequer a whopping `1.10 lakh crore. Besides, the Centre will have to procure massive quantities of foodgrain for the purpose.

According to sources, Pawar had raised questions about the long-term viability of providing subsidised foodgrains to nearly 75 per cent of the population in a country of India’s vastness.

However, with crucial elections round the corner, the Congress top brass is unwilling to buy the Maratha’s logic. More so since the party, which is fighting a strong anti-incumbency factor after remaining in power for nearly 10 years, hopes to go to the polls with “food on every plate, money in every hand”, sort of catchy slogan.

Sources said it had been conveyed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that his government had the party’s full backing on its reform measures so that funds could be allocated for the Food Bill. Though the Union Food Ministry had accepted most of the recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee, a few issues such as footing the transportation and storage costs of the foodgrains had to be worked out. And the Food Ministers’ meet is expected to thrash out an agreement on these sticking points.

While the Centre has decided that the states will be given 75 per cent compensation for the storage of the foodgrains through Nabard and other agencies, the issue of transportation cost is yet to be addressed. Once the Bill is passed, the Centre is looking at a three to eight month time-frame for rolling out the scheme.

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