Chief minister Nitish Kumar flags off the implementation of the Food Security Act at Samvad in Patna on Saturday. Picture by Nagendra Kumar Singh
Patna, Feb. 1: Chief minister Nitish Kumar today kicked off implementation of the much-vaunted Food Security Act in the state, promising a major boost to his party’s electoral prospects in the ensuing general elections.
He indicated he would not allow the Centre to run away with the credit. The scheme is UPA-II’s flagship venture and will benefit the below poverty line population ahead of elections. “Many would try to take the credit alone but they should not forget that though a central scheme, the state government contributes Rs 800 crore every year for its smooth implementation. Elections are round the corner. But the state will bear the cost for the benefit of its poor people. I am happy that the act has finally been implemented in the state and will cover over 7 crore people,” Nitish said at Samvad.
Through video-conferencing, Nitish flagged off trucks carrying foodgrain to implement the act in four districts — Patna, Purnea, Gopalganj and Nalanda. Under the scheme, the state government will provide rice at Rs 3 per kg and wheat at Rs 2 per kg to people hailing from the target group every month. The scheme will cover 80 per cent of the rural population and 73 per cent of the urban population in the state, mainly those living below poverty line (BPL).
“Our contribution cannot be ruled out as our party voted for the bill in Parliament,” said Nitish. He also attacked the Centre for delay the scheme’s launch in the state. The process got delayed in Bihar owing to non-payment of wages to officials engaged in counting beneficiaries on the basis of socio-economic and caste census survey, Nitish said.
Also, Nitish said: “The Centre did not correctly assess the BPL list on the basis of which foodgrain is allocated to the state. The central government’s assessment showed 60 lakh BPL people in Bihar, whereas our surveys showed 1.4 crore. We have to bear the cost of allocating foodgrain to the rest of the people from the state’s fund.”
Initially, the state had raised certain objections to the bill, particularly the financial burden.
Attacking Nitish, Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee (BPCC) president Ashok Choudhary said: “We do not get involved in credit politics. Those who want to do so, let them do. Congress has started a scheme for the betterment of people and the party is honest about its commitment to the aam aadmi (common people).”
Choudhary added: “Nitish did the same with the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). He attacked the Congress, only to pocket credit for the AMU. We all know how the Congress-led Centre has been steadfast in ensuring better education, food and healthcare for the common people.”
Nitish suggested that in the proposed Food Security Commission, which would keep tabs on beneficiaries, five out of seven members should be from rural background and one from the minorities and another from Extremely Backward Classes (EBC). He mentioned that global positioning system (GPS) in trucks carrying foodgrain and latest technology used in the implementation of the act would cure leakages in the public distribution system.
Experts described Nitish’s alacrity about implementing the populist act as part of his political strategy ahead of the general elections and efforts to consolidate his hold on impoverished Mahadalits and EBCs, who constitute almost 90 per cent of BPL families in the state.