| A trader inspects a fistful of rice near New Delhi. (AFP) |
Patna, Aug. 27: The Congress’s game changer — the food security bill — is set to be a major election issue for the JD(U) in the state for the Lok Sabha polls.
According to sources, the Nitish government aims to kick off the bill on November 26 this year, the foundation day of the Dal.
“We are going to give a major hype to the scheme, which is expected to benefit around 8 crore people in the state,” remarked a senior JD(U) leader. The party had initially raised certain objections to the bill — particularly the financial burden, which will be imposed on the state government. Sources said it would cost around Rs 20,000 crore to implement the scheme in the state. However, with the snapping of ties with the BJP and the growing closeness with the Congress, the party has decided to go the whole hog with the scheme.
Food and consumer affairs minister Shyam Rajak refused to give a deadline to launch the scheme but made it clear he was in a hurry. “I have called a meeting of the officials concerned on Thursday. Several storehouses are on the verge of completion or have been completed. We are waiting for the socio-economic survey to be completed by the rural development department. We expect it to be completed within six weeks after which the beneficiaries will be identified. Delivery of foodgrain would be done directly from the farmers instead of procuring it from Food Corporation of India store houses,” he said.
The minister said the state is already providing subsidised foodgrain to 1.45 lakh families hailing from the below poverty line (BPL) group. “Over five crore people benefit from the scheme. However, it would increase to seven or eight crore,” he added.
At present, the Bihar government foots a bill of Rs 500 crore every year from its own resources for giving foodgrain to the BPL population, as the Centre does not provide it for all BPL families. The state government is hopeful that the central government will meet a substantial portion of the expenses for transportation and expansion of storage capacity of foodgrain in the state.
However, the ground realties are daunting. According to the food security scheme, the state government has to provide rice at Rs 3 per kg and wheat at Rs 2 per kg to people hailing from the target group every month. Apart from the financial strain on the exchequer, the state will require a storage capacity of 13 lakh metric tonnes. At present, it is 2.62 metric lakh tonnes. Leakages would have to be plugged in the distribution of foodgrain to the BPL population.
“The Centre has given the states one year to implement this scheme. The socio-economic survey, according to my information may take another six months to come out. The infrastructure in Bihar is weak as witnessed in the public distribution system. Only states having a strong infrastructure will be able to benefit from this scheme,” said former deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi, stressing that the delivery system in the state was weak and faulty implementation may backfire on the ruling parties.
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), one of the most ambitious schemes of the UPA government, failed to have the desired effect in Bihar, as it got mired in charges of irregularities. “The food security scheme should not be compared to MGNREGA. The rural job act had certain technical flaws. However, the Bihar government has been repeatedly demanding foodgrain for the BPL population. Chief minister Nitish Kumar was the first one to point out the disparity in the figures of the Planning Commission on the BPL population and the ground reality. The state government should have no problem in implementing it,” said Saibal Gupta, economist and member secretary of the Asian Development Research Institute.
Nitish govt aims to start scheme on November 26 this year — JD(U)’s foundation day to achieve political mileage in Lok Sabha polls
Food and consumer protection minister Shyam Rajak said work progressing fast in this direction
Seven to eight crore people stand to benefit from food scheme
State govt estimates that Rs 20,000 crore needed to implement scheme
Opposition doubts implementation of scheme owing to weak infrastructure