Food security: How the states feed India

FoodThe cabinet is set to take up the central Food Security Bill

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Act one

Chhattisgarh already has a food security law in place. It became last December the first state to pass a food security bill, which covers several sections not under existing schemes.

The Act makes food entitlement a right and depriving anyone of that an offence. If PDS grains, for instance, are being diverted, the officials involved will face penal provisions. The Act also seeks to empower women by counting the eldest woman of a household as its head in matters related to ration cards.

The Act provides for various subsidies over and above those granted by the Centre. In this year's budget, the government earmarked Rs 2,000 crore for implementing the Act. Some get rice at Rs 1 per kg, while the destitute and disaster-affected persons get it free. The law also includes protein security by providing chana at Rs 5 per kg and pulses at Rs 10 per kg.

It defines a new category, "particularly vulnerable social groups", which includes households headed by terminally ill persons, widows or single women, physically challenged persons, all households headed by a person aged 60 or more with no assured means of subsistence or societal support, and a person freed from bonded labour.

Wider reach, lower quota

Bihar covers a larger poor population than the Centre recognises, which it manages by rejigging the central PDS quota and spending on extra foodgrains, and says it cannot afford a higher burden. The Centre recognises 65.23 lakh BPL families, Bihar insists it has 1.37 crore of them, and extends its PDS coverage to a total of 1.12 crore. From a fund of Rs 580 crore it has created, Bihar spends Rs 120 crore every year on grains distributed among the "unrecognised" BPL families. This affects the quota the central allotment of 35 kg grains a month, meant for all BPL families, is restricted in Bihar to the 25 lakh very poor families (Antyodaya); the other BPL families get 25 kg (10 kg wheat and 15 kg rice at centrally subsidised rates). That leaves Bihar still short and it meets the shortfall by buying grains from the FCI. "We cannot afford populist measures such as giving rice at Rs 2 per kg," says Food and Consumer Protection Minister Shyam Rajak. "The CM has made it clear that the state hasn't the wherewithal to bear even part of the burden of the food security law."

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