New Delhi, Sept. 2: The food security scheme may not necessarily cover exactly 67 per cent of the population as declared, with the figures varying from state to state depending on poverty levels.
Food minister K.V. Thomas clarified the point when Arun Jaitley, Opposition leader in the Rajya Sabha which cleared the bill today, asked whether the promised 75 per cent rural and 50 per cent urban coverage were base lines or ceilings. Clause 3(2) of the bill says “up to 75 per cent” and “up to 50 per cent”.
The percentages of beneficiaries in each state would be fixed on the basis of consumption data from the National Sample Survey Organisation, Thomas said.
It’s the Centre that will decide the coverage in each state, going by Clause 9 of the bill which has drawn Opposition charges of violating federal principles.
“The (figures of) 75 per cent and 50 per cent are based on NSSO data…. This may be relevant for Uttar Pradesh and Bihar (but) are we going to give the same (in) Tamil Nadu and Kerala?” Thomas asked.
Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have higher poverty levels than the two southern states the minister mentioned.
The NSSO conducts periodic surveys to find out, for instance, what proportion of the population is spending how much on food, and what kind of food they are eating.
Jaitley accused the Centre of failing to consult the chief ministers on the bill — a grouse earlier expressed by Narendra Modi in Gujarat and Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu.
However, though no meeting of chief ministers had been called, the states’ opinion had been officially sought.
“The whole concept is that the Centre decides one size and that size fits all,” Jaitley scoffed as he moved the motion to debate the bill.
‘Aye’ for an ‘aye’ in house battle
The government benches thundered an “aye” for their bill — except that, in their
eagerness, they hadn’t noticed how the question had been framed. Rajya Sabha Chair Hamid Ansari had asked whether the House supported Opposition leader Arun Jaitley’s resolution opposing the bill. So, the bill’s opponents too shouted “aye” — having understood the question correctly.
This is the second time the Treasury benches have goofed up over the bill. On August 26, when the Lok Sabha passed the bill, Opposition leader Sushma Swaraj had moved an amendment to drop the provision of monetary allowance in lieu of food. Then, too, the government benches had given her proposal an “aye”.
Swaraj had graciously accepted that it was an inadvertent error but in the upper House on Monday, deputy Opposition leader Ravi Shankar Prasad insisted the Chair take the Treasury benches’ “ayes” into consideration.
After 10 minutes of din, the Congress sought a division to end the controversy. Technical problems forced at least three spells of voting. The result: noes 118; ayes 92.
Jaitley asked if “superior schemes” in other states —several BJP members referred to the Chhattisgarh scheme as one — would be continued. Thomas said they would be if they provide a higher quantity of cheap food compared with the central scheme.
Trinamul member Derek O’Brien asked for Clause 38 of the bill to be removed. The clause says the Centre would give directions to the states for the scheme’s implementation, and the states “shall comply with such directions”.
“Please take out (Clause) 38 and we will forgive you for your over-enthusiasm,” O’Brien said, describing the bill as a gimmick to win votes. Many Opposition members shared the sentiment but nevertheless voted for the bill.
Mayawati too said the chief ministers should have been consulted, but her party supported the bill.
The CPM had a query: while 67 per cent of Indians would benefit from the scheme, what would happen to the remaining 33 per cent? “Do they have no right to live with dignity?” Sitaram Yechury asked.
He said the provision of 5kg grain per person per month should be raised at least to 7kg, and the price of rice should be lowered to Rs 2 a kilo from Rs 3.