New Delhi, April 10 (IANS) Expressing concern over delays in the poverty census, a member of the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC) has asked the government if it could affect implementation of the proposed Food Security Act.
"The two major states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have not even begun the survey as yet. Does it mean the Food Security Act will not be implemented till then?" NAC member N.C. Saxena said in a communication to Food Minister K.V. Thomas.
The food security bill - which promises subsidised grains to around 65 percent of the country's 1.2 billion population - is currently being examined by a parliamentary panel and is a dream project of the NAC. Noting there has been an inordinate and inexplicable delay of more than five years in the poverty survey, Saxena said the new list may not be ready in all the states even by the end of 2012.
Amid varying versions of poverty estimates available with the government, it is expected that identification of genuine beneficiaries would be possible only when the ongoing poverty census is completed.
According to the NAC member, the rural development ministry is expected to prepare a fresh list of poor households once in five years. Since the last poverty survey was conducted in 2002, a new one should have been in place by 2007.
However, the rural development ministry is now conducting the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) 2011, which will throw up the latest poverty estimates. Currently, there are 65 million below the poverty line (BPL) households that get subsidised rations under the public distribution system (PDS).
The NAC member has suggested that the government explore implementing the right to food law at least for the priority BPL group from 2012 in the absence of SECC results.
"This can easily be done by asking the states to increase the number of Antyodaya/BPL households from 6.5 crore (65 million) to 10 crore by giving to the states a definite number of priority households," said Saxena in his letter to Thomas.
The issue is a vexed one as the proposed food security bill would push up the current food subsidy from Rs.65,000 crore to over Rs.1 lakh crore.
The central government has already asked the states to complete digitisation of the PDS by end-2012 to prepare for implementing the food security bill.
(Amit Agnihotri can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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