NEW DELHI: The Centre is working on a solution to ensure that poor get benefits like free medicines and check-ups in speciality government hospitals on the basis of their BPL ration cards while eliminating income tax payers and top officials from the ambit of PDS.
The new moves are aimed at better targeting of subsidies which the government wants should reach the needy and the deserving.
"This issue is under consideration. We are trying to find some workable solution to ensure Below Poverty Line (BPL) category people can avail other facilities like free medicines with ease on the basis of a ration card," says Union Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan.
He told PTI in an interview that the poor are facing problems, especially in those states where the new food law has been implemented.
The Minister was asked whether the government will take steps to ensure that new ration card serves as an ID card for other benefits.
Meanwhile, the government is working on plans to take out income tax payers and ranking officials in the government out of the ambit of Public Distribution System (PDS).
The Modi government has asked states to try such a scheme and Paswan will be discussing the issue with them.
It has also given enough signals that the much-touted welfare food security programme of the UPA government will not be shelved.
In fact, plans are afoot to fine-tune the scheme to target the beneficiaries in a better way and address the foodgrains entitlement, a sensitive issue raised by states.
"It is possible. We are thinking on these lines. I believe that instead of identifying poor beneficiaries, it would be better to identify those who can be excluded from the scheme," he said.
He was asked whether the government has any plans to implement the much-discussed idea of excluding income tax payers from the ambit of PDS benefits.
The Minister cited the case of Madhya Pradesh government already implementing a scheme on these lines.
"Class I and II officers and income tax payers are kept out of the ambit of PDS benefits in the state. We have asked all states to try this. I will discuss this issue with the state governments," he said.
At the same time, Paswan also expressed dissatisfaction over operation of PDS. "The benefit that should reach the poor is not reaching. There are many complaints about PDS."
Prior to the new food security law, ration cards served as identity cards to the below poverty line (BPL) families for not only getting highly subsidised foodgrains but also government benefits meant for BPL people.
With the scrapping of BPL section in the new food security law, the poor in this category are deprived of free health check-ups, free medicine and other housing facilities under both state and central government schemes because the ration card is no more recognised as an identity card for availing these benefits.
In fact, under the new food law, state governments are freshly identifying the beneficiaries and are issuing new ration cards, which are not being recognised as an ID card for other benefits being given to BPL people.
As of now, 11 states have implemented the food law. Of which, Haryana, Rajasthan, Punjab, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra, have fully implemented the Act; while Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Chandigarh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar have done it partially, Paswan added.
He also rejected suggestions that the new government was not keen about the scheme launched by the previous government last year.
"There is no less enthusiasm. Many states had opposed the law. We are trying to implement the law at the earliest. We had given three months extension that has expired. There might be another extension given to states," Paswan said.
The Centre will also advise state governments to exclude tax-payers and class 1-2 officers from the beneficiaries' list under the food law, he told PTI in an interview.
Making it clear that the NDA government will not shelve the new law brought in by the previous UPA regime, Paswan said that the government will implement the Act but hinted there could be some amendments to remove anomalies in entitlement.
The government has given six months more time till April to state governments for implementing the food law, that gives two-thirds of the country's population the right to subsidised foodgrains. The earlier three-month extension expired on October 4.
Under the Food law, the government would distribute a uniform quantity of 5 kilograms of foodgrains per person at a flat rate of Rs 3 per kg for rice, Rs 2 per kg for wheat and Rs 1 per kg for coarse cereals.
The existing Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) households, poorest of the poor, will continue to receive 35 kg of foodgrains per family a month.
The implementation of the law would increase the Centre's food subsidy bill by Rs 25,000 crore to Rs 1.31 lakh crore.