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Cheap foodgrains to 75% of Indians not feasible: Pawar

Last updated on: October 28, 2010 10:25 IST

Cheap foodgrains to 75% of Indians not feasible: Pawar

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BS Reporter in New Delhi

In the first sign of dissent within the ruling UPA government, Agriculture & Food Minister Sharad Pawar on Wednesday indicated that covering two-thirds of the population under the proposed Food Security Bill was not feasible.

The veteran Maratha leader told the Economic Editors' Conference that the National Advisory Council proposal would entail the supply of 62.1 million tonnes (mt) in subsidised foodgrain.

This estimate, he said, did not include allocations to other welfare schemes, the country's food buffer and strategic reserves.

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Image: Sharad Pawar.

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Cheap foodgrains to 75% of Indians not feasible: Pawar

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Welfare schemes need around 5 mt of foodgrain. In addition, the buffer and strategic reserves require stocks of between 21.2 and 31.9 mt during the year. Officials from Pawar's ministry said that last year, various agencies procured a record 57.4 mt.

"We are adopting a cautious approach... Irrespective of the fine print, it is certain that our outgo from the public distribution system will increase substantially," Pawar said.

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Image: Farmers sit beside heaps of wheat at a grain market in Chandigarh.
Photographs: Ajay Verma/Reuters.
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Cheap foodgrains to 75% of Indians not feasible: Pawar

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At 62.1 mt, the supply of subsidised wheat and rice would be roughly 50 per cent higher than the 42.4 mt provided through the targeted public distribution system last year.

Pawar's estimates assume the coverage of 97 million below-the-poverty-line families and 89 million other families. Under the proposed Food Security Bill, the government would provide each family 35 kg of wheat and rice every month at a subsidised rate of Rs 3 a kg to cover 75 per cent of the population.

Pawar clarified that these were rough estimates, as his ministry was yet to receive a copy of the NAC recommendations.

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Image: Food grain stocks.

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Cheap foodgrains to 75% of Indians not feasible: Pawar

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An earlier assessment conducted by the Planning Commission had also said that with the current level of annual procurement, it might not be feasible for the government to provide guaranteed foodgrain from the central pool to the above-poverty-line population.

Over the last few years, government procurement has increased, thanks to a rise in the procurement price, as well as controls on buying by private companies and traders. Pawar also ruled out the export of foodgrain as suggested by economists, including Chief Economic Adviser Kaushik Basu, citing the requirements of the proposed Food Security Bill.

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Image: A man carries a sack of wheat.
Photographs: Mohammed Salem/Reuters.
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