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BPL families to get comprehensive social security net

By Saubhadro Chatterji in New Delhi
March 04, 2010 11:31 IST
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Expanding its commitment to provide subsidised foodgrain to the poor, the Manmohan Singh government is looking at a host of social sector initiatives along with its soon-to-be-unveiled Food Security Bill.

While some of the measures are aimed to revamp the ailing Public Distribution System (PDS), others would provide more monetary benefits to the below poverty line (BPL) population.

The draft Food Security Bill, to be tabled during the current Budget session of Parliament for public comments, will seek to provide 35 kg of food grains at Rs 3 per kg to BPL families, an increase of 10 kg from the Congress party's poll promise in 2009.

It also envisages the creation of a Food and Nutrition Commission headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as its chairman and the Leader of Opposition as one of its members. There will be two women members in the commission, according to the proposed Bill.

The Congress brass also wants to give more powers to Panchayats to make PDS; effective. It wants ration shops managed by panchayat or government bodies. Gram Sabhas - the lowest unit at the village levels - will be empowered to monitor the running of these shops and also the power to make recommendations on licences.

Sources in the agriculture ministry told Business Standard that the government planned to switch to the "coupon system" for foodgrain to BPL families from 2012, as proposed in the Economic Survey for 2009-10. Instead of providing foodgrain directly to beneficiaries, the government will give coupons to targeted households which can be redeemed at select shops in the open market as well.

The Manmohan Singh government also wants to bring the old age pension of Rs 400 for BPL persons under an umbrella legislation on social security, providing constitutional guarantee to this scheme.

The government also plans to launch a monthly allowance of Rs 1,000 per month for BPL women in the seventh month of their pregnancy. The allowance will be given for the following six months.

While the PM will head the Food and Nutrition Commission at the central level, special food security commissioners would be appointed at the state levels to monitor the flagship scheme.

The new proposals also include supply of iodised salt, vitamins and iron-rich food at all anganwadi centres apart from running crèches for working women. The Centre will also propose to include health and nutrition as subjects in school curricula.

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Saubhadro Chatterji in New Delhi
Source: source
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