With Food Security Bill expected to be come up in Parliament in the coming Budget session, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar today demanded that the Centre should bear the entire cost of the scheme and set up an independent BPL commission to identify genuine beneficiaries.
"National Food Security Bill is a central legislation which has been proposed pursuant to the central government's own planning and policy.
"Therefore, it is the Centre who should bear the entire cost of the proposed paradigm shift in addressing the problem of food security from the current welfare approach to a right-based approach," Kumar said in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
"When the GoI bears the entire expenditure related to Targeted Public Distribution System, why then substantial financial burden of enlarged entitlements and its implementation is being thrust upon the state unilaterally in the proposed legislation?" he asked.
A copy of the letter has also been sent to Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram, Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Union Food minister K V Thomas.
The Food Bill, a pet project of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and considered a 'game changer' for UPA in the 2014 general elections is expected to come up in Parliament in the budget session starting February 18.
The legislation, which provides 75 per cent coverage of PDS in rural areas, is billed as the world's greatest experiment in providing food security to the poor. It was sent to the select committee immediately after being introduced in Lok Sabha in 2010 winter session.
Kumar, however, expressed happiness that the Standing Committee on Food and Consumer Affairs took cognisance of some major concerns raised by the state government.
In the letter, the CM said the committee noted that the department did not consult the Finance Commission regarding the additional expenditure to be borne by the states on account of implementation of National Food Security Bill.
Kumar said the committee felt that the department may consult the Finance Commission with regard to the additional expenditure required to be borne by state governments and union territories so that they may allocate sufficient fund in their respective budgets for the implementation of the Food Bill.
The Bihar CM said in view of wide gaps in the number of beneficiaries of the subsidised foodgrain scheme in the state and elsewhere, an independent BPL commission should be set up to ensure identification authentication, updating and display of beneficiaries in a transparent manner.
He suggested direct cash transfer to beneficiaries to reduce expenditure over TPDS reform, which is an important part of the Bill.
"This will definitely save us from the burden of additional cost, time over runs, etc," Kumar said in his letter to the PM.
He said the committee felt that state governments may be divided into categories A, B and C. Those states which are performing well financially could be be termed as 'Category A' states and may bear the entire cost as envisaged in the bill - both one time and recurring nature for implementation of the Food Bill.
Remaining states may be divided into category B and C for which the Centre may provide financial assistance to the extent of 50 per cent and 75 per cent respectively for one time capital expenditure to be incurred on creation of infrastructure, constitution of state Food Commission, creation of scientific storage up to block levels and setting up of vigilance committees at various levels.
The Bihar CM demanded that apart from the proposed two women, one schedule caste and one schedule tribe members, the National and State Food Commission should also have one member each from the OBC and minority community.
Besides, at least five out of the total seven members should be from the rural background.
He appreciated the Standing Committee for recommending that a simple and fair way of setting up state-wise exclusion ration should be prescribed in a transparent manner in consultation with state government.
This should be done so as to enable the central government to determine the inter state foodgrains allocations under PDS with cut offs set in such a way that 25 per cent of rural population and 50 per cent of urban population are above respective cut offs at the national level, he added.