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Team-S pins food hope on minister

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By RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
  • Published 11.02.11
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New Delhi, Feb. 10: The Sonia Gandhi-headed National Advisory Council (NAC) has pinned its hopes on the new food minister, K.V. Thomas, to see its version of the food security bill past Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Planning Commission deputy chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia.

The NAC’s perpetual grouse was that Thomas’ predecessor, Sharad Pawar, was not only indifferent but also opposed the idea of social inclusion in the food sector, and managed to convince the Prime Minister and Ahluwalia.

Harsh Mander and N.C. Saxena — the first is the convener while Saxena is a member of the NAC’s sub-group on food security — had their first meeting with Thomas today in the panel’s office.

They presented a point-by-point critique of the Rangarajan committee’s recommendations on food security that were largely at variance with the panel’s version of the proposed law.

Last month, the committee, led by the Prime Minister’s economic adviser, C. Rangarajan, rejected the NAC’s proposal for near-universalisation of the public distribution system, citing current production and procurement trends as a reason.

In today’s meeting, a source said, Mander and Saxena continued to press for food entitlements for 75 per cent of the population, including “priority” (below poverty line) and “general” (above poverty line) categories.

It is understood that Thomas was told the NAC was “unwilling” to take the Rangarajan committee’s “concerns” on board.

Thomas, it seems, heard them out “patiently”, agreed “in principle” with what the members said but stressed there were “practical” issues that also merited the government’s consideration.

The minister did not spell out the issues but promised to get back to Mander and Saxena ahead of the NAC meeting on February 26.

Asked if there was room for reconciling the views of the NAC with those of the Rangarajan committee, which is said to have “persuaded” the Prime Minister, the source said: “Let’s not use the word ‘reconciliation’.

“It’s a question of give-and-take, of how much ground the government is ready to yield and what compromises the NAC is resigned to making.”

The NAC believed Thomas was “different” from Pawar for two reasons: being a Congress “loyalist”, he would try and accommodate Sonia’s wishes to the “best of his ability”.

Second, Thomas belongs to Kerala, a state with near-universal PDS coverage and was, therefore, expected to be more amenable to the council’s recommendations.

“If the present minister has a will, there will be a way. If he insists upon something, why would the Prime Minister and Ahluwalia oppose it?” asked the source.