'Food production has gone up to a record level'
Tell us about the National Food Security Bill which tries to ensure food for all?
The National Food Security Bill has been sent to the Standing Committee of Parliament. If you remember, the origin of the bill goes to the joint meeting of the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha members, during which it was announced that 25 kilograms of food grains would be available to below poverty line (BPL) families at the rate of three rupees. On that basis we worked it out and had a very lengthy discussion for two to two and half years. We discussed this issue with the state governments and the draft bill has been proposed. The draft bill highlights that in the rural areas the coverage for food entitlement will be 75%. While for the priority section the coverage will be 46% . While in urban areas it is 50% coverage after which minimum 20% will be for the priority sector. There will be two sectors—priority and general sector. For the priority sector it has been decided that the allotment is for the entire family, so every individual will be entitled to 7 kilograms of food grain per month at the rate of 3 rupees for rice, 2 rupees for wheat and 1 rupee for millet. While for the the general category it is 3 rupees and 50% of the Minimum Support Price (MSP).
The important aspect is that this bill becomes a legal right. At present the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) works especially for the Above Poverty Line (APL) which is based on availability. In case of BPL we are giving them 35 kgs, while in case of APL it works on the basis of availability, so it varies between 10.5 to 20 kgs.
In this bill as we are covering pregnant women, lactating women, infants and also the children studying up to eight standard. All of them will be provided with cooked or prepared food.
Another important point is that the head of the family will be the mother. This is a substantial decision taken by the government of India that the family head should be the mother. Then there will also be the redressal system for the national, state and district level. Suppose due to any reason food is not available like in case of a natural calamity then cash would be given as compensation. This is the nutshell of the bill, which is before the standing committee. There are many proposals coming to us, which we are examining. The matter is constantly being reviewed along with Prime Minister, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, the planning commission and financial advisor to the PM. There are was a meeting with the PM on Wednesday where several rounds of discussions were held regarding this bill.
Another very important issue is of differentiation between APL and BPL, especially as there has always been a history of dispute regarding this. One of the suggestions that has come out is that 67% of the population can be covered under the priority section and 33% will be excluded. That exclusion right will be given to the states depending on the census which is going on . We also suggested that the TPDS system should be modernised by computerisation, biometric system etc. There should also be intermediate godowns which should be state owned. States take the grains straight away from the Food Corporation of India (FCI) take it to the Fair Price Shops (FPS) shops. States should have 3 months quota for go-downs for which we are giving them Rural Infrastructure Development Fund (RIDF) fund. This bill also envisages at social auditing via which the Panchayati Raj institutions should be strengthened.
Tell us about the government's move to consider imposing stock holding limit on food items?
We have not taken a decision so far but we are analysing the monsoon fluctuations. As per the Meteorology Department, which suggested that this year the monsoon will be 23 % less than normal, but we are to wait for another 15 days to get some kind of final decision. What I can understand as per now is that we wont have a problem in terms of food grains because we already have a huge stock now. Next year too the Meteorology department and agriculture ministry have said that our food grain is more or less similar to how it is now. In the case of sugar, it is suggested that last year it was 262 lakh tons and this year it will be around 2550-255 lakh tons, which is something manageable. But in case of pulses the production may come down. So we have to find out some kind of export of pulses and better distribution. One of the suggestions our department is has is that we had a programme for subsidised distribution of pulses to the states, that is 10 rupees per kg for APL and BPL families.
That has been stopped because the off-take was very small, expect a few states nobody else was interested. But this situation we think pulses are quite important and there can be a distribution to the BPL families. We will have to keep a watch on the situation. If needed the stock holding limit will be brought back and export will also be taking place. Depending on the situation exports can be controlled and there is already a committee headed by the commerce secretary to review the situation. So after 15 days, we will conduct a review and take
With the government starting awareness programmes like the Jago Grahak Jago campaign, how has the response been? Has it been able to affect the target audience?
We are trying to have an awareness campaign so that people know about their rights. We also started campaigns focusing on wastage of food, which is a major issue. At social function like marriage a huge amount of food is wasted. So we started this campaign with the slogan- 'save the food', we have written to state government as well as to HRD minister Kapil Sibal to include it in school syllabus. Another of our campaigns is based on misleading advertisements. Now this message has started reaching out to the mind of people, that they possess these rights. We have a large number of helplines throughout the country, through which people can send in their complaints. These are some of the schemes which the ministry has initiated.
Are you satisfied with Consumer Protection Act, 1986? Apart from this, what else are you doing to create consumer awareness?
It is a continuous process because there are consumer courts at state, district and national levels. We are trying to strengthen these consumer courts giving them better facilities where people can get affordable legal aid as well.
In the current scenario, inflation has adversely affected the aam aadmi. What are the efforts being made by the ministry to monitor the price?
We have a monitoring system to give us daily updates. I get the prices of 19 items everyday from major cities across India. There is a slight increase about 2.5 to 3 %. But if you look at food grains, wheat and rice there is small fluctuation.
When we get a better price with the farmers then that is reflected in a very small way in the market price. In case of sugar too the situation is the same. In some cities like Kerala, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram the price has gone up by 4-5 rupees. We are watching the situation, if the price of sugar goes up then we will release more sugar into the market and bring the situation control. The main area of concern is vegetable and fruits. In the agricultural sector we should have modern mechanisms in place to produce more.
At the same time we also should have effective cold storages, which we currently lack. There should be effective distribution mechanism from the field of production to area of distribution.
Similarly farmers should be allowed to sell in markets for which Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act has to be amended. We have written to the states to make suitable amendments. While some states are doing so other are still waiting.
You have a consumer helpline, how effectively are the consumer complaints tackled by the ministry?
These helplines are doing very well. The consumer complaints are constantly handled by the ministry. The helpline people try and negotiate between the consumer and the producer if there is a dispute. There is still a lot more to be done on this.
Till now what have been the achievements of the ministry.
The food production has gone up to a record level. This is the first time such a huge quantity has been procured so that the farmers are getting the MSP price and food grains are distributed through out the country. The management of food grains is most achievable on part of the government as we have procured around 82 million tons, while 77 million tons is wheat itself.
Our damages have come down form 0.5 % to 0.006%. So one major achievement is the management of food grains. Second the price level, is with our limitations because inflation depends on so many factors including external ones. We also do a review and take actions to make sure that essential items for poor people are at least kept at a reasonable rate.