Press Trust of India
New Delhi, 1 October: Denying having any reservations on food law, agriculture minister Sharad Pawar today said the successful implementation of the worlds largest social welfare scheme should be ‘enshrined’ on strong domestic production and not on imported grains.
Since the food subsidy is almost Rs 1,000 per person per year, there is a need for complete re-engineering of the existing public distribution system (PDS) so as to ensure each and every grain reaches the right beneficiary, he said.
The ambitious food law ~ considered as ‘game-changer’ by the Congress-ruled UPA government and described by the opposition parties as ‘political gimmick’ ahead of 2014 general elections ~ aims to provide a legal right over cheaper foodgrains to about 82 crore people.
“A lot has been talked about my reservations on the food security law. There is no question of having any reservations for a social security programme covering the poor and needy sector of the society,” said Mr Pawar, while addressing the state food ministers conference on food law.
Stating that implementation of the worlds largest social security programme is a monumental task, he said, “I am of the firm opinion that we must enshrine food security on the strong foundation of domestic production and not on the imported grains.”
He said high domestic production of foodgrains will obviate the need for imports that may distort international prices.
He urged the state governments to address five aspects production, procurement , transportation, storage and distribution.
On improving distribution, Mr Pawar said, “Distribution side involving procurement, transportation, storage and distribution is an extremely voluminous and multi-layer system posing tremendous challenge to the administration. This makes it vulnerable at every stage.”
It would not be a good idea to have a central tailor-made approach for re-engineering the distribution system. “But each state must take up the agenda in a mission mode to implement the food security act in its true spirit,” he suggested.
The states should gear up to plug loopholes with the use of appropriate and innovative technology as the incentive for foodgrains diversion from ration shops would be very high because of the huge difference between the market price and the issue price, he added.
That apart, Mr Pawar urged states to put extra effort at all stages of operation in ensuring that beneficiaries get quality foodgrains.
Noting that the country has achieved self-sufficiency in foodgrains because of strong procurement machinery, Mr Pawar said the future demand of food can be met only if farmers are assured of the support price and procurement, especially in eastern states.
Mr Pawar emphasised on procurement of neglected coarse cereals as demand is expected to rise under the food law. A similar arrangement could be made for pulses procurement to ensure the country is not dependent on imports.
The minister stressed the need to safeguard farmers’ interest by opening more procurement centres and ensure direct payment to farmers.
Mr Pawar suggested the food ministry to monitor prices in unorganised markets and remain vigilant on the price being paid to farmers by private traders.
To augment storage capacity, the minister urged state governments to avail benefits of Gramin Bhandaran Yojana and Agricultural Marketing Infrastructure Grading and Standardisation Scheme being run under his ministry.
The food law aims to guarantee five kg of rice, wheat and coarse cereals per month per person at Rs 3, Rs 2 and Rs 1, respectively. Delhi, Haryana and Uttarakhand have announced implementation of the provisions of the law.