The government Thursday tabled in the Lok Sabha the landmark food security bill which seeks to provide subsidised foodgrain to over half of India's 1.2 billion population and ensure that people "live a life with dignity".
Food Minister K.V. Thomas introduced the National Food Security Bill, 2011, "to provide for food and nutritional security by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices".
Thomas said that the bill, a pet project of Congress president Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC) and cleared by the cabinet Sunday, will ensure people of India get "to live a life with dignity".
It promises 75 percent of rural population and 50 percent of urban households the right to 7 kg foodgrain per person per month, at Rs.3 per kg for rice, Rs.2 per kg for wheat and Rs.1 per kg for coarse grains to the priority beneficiaries.
The general category will get not less than 3 kg grain per person per month at half the maximum spelling price (MSP).
The central government will identify the priority (BPL) and general category (APL) beneficiaries and will decide the distribution quota for the states.
The bill will also provide rations or cooked meals to children under 14 years of age, pregnant women and lactating mothers and persons on the margins of society.
Community kitchens are also provided for to give at least one meal a day to destitute persons.
These entitlements will increase the food subsidy from around Rs.63,000 crore at present to Rs.79,800 crore in 2011-12, which could go up later. It will also require the government to improve procurement from around 55 million tonnes to 61 metric tonnes.
The bill mandates the central and the state governments to reform the targeted public distribution system, through which subsidised rations are being provided to below poverty line and above poverty line persons.
In a first of its kind, the bill will treat the eldest woman, not less than 18 years of age, as the head of the family while issuing ration cards to the beneficiaries.
While the bill provides for a three-tier system to monitor the implementation of the right to food at the district, state and national level, it also imposes an obligation upon the central and the state government to put in place an internal grievance redressal system including call centres, help lines and nodal officers.
The bill imposes penalty of Rs.5,000 on any public servant or authority found guilty of not providing the relief given by the district grievance redressal forum.
It also mandates the states to carry out periodic social audits on the functioning of the fair price shops, which sell subsidised grains.
The union cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Sunday approved the bill,
The bill will be referred to the parliamentary standing committee.