The Empowered Group of Ministers headed by Pranab Mukherjee has cleared the Food Security Bill, paving the way for Right to food to be made a fundamental right backed by legal provision. The bill is strongly supported by Rahul Gandhi and Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
The bill which will now be circulated for opinions is likely to be cleared by the end of the budget session of Parliament say sources with the government keen to bring in the bill at the earliest.
Apart from this a bonanza awaits the 50 lakh central government employees with the cabinet meeting on Friday likely to clear an 8 per cent increase in the dearness allowance of these employees. The DA is being increased because of the price rise with the prices of essential commodities going up. The cost to the government would be to the tune
of Rs 3000 crore.
But interestingly, what the government gives with one hand, it takes away with the other. It is learnt that at the same cabinet meeting which will increase the DA, there is a proposal to increase the prices of wheat and rice which are being given to the Above Poverty Line families under the Public Distribution System.
There would be a Rs 4 increase on wheat taking the amount from Rs 11 to Rs 15.37 while there would be an increase of Rs 2 on rice with the prices going up from Rs 6 to Rs 8.30. It is possible that government may not be in position to implement this price rise.
This increase is likely to create a huge hue and cry with the prices of petrol, diesel and petroleum products having already gone up and on top of that prices of food items show very little downward trend.
The proposed hike in the prices of wheat and rice are being linked to the provisions of the Food Security Bill which has just been finalized by the EGOM. According to sources, the BPL families would be given 25 kg of wheat and rice with wheat being sold for Rs 3 and rice for Rs 2.
For the poorest of poor families, the earlier provision was to provide 35 kgs but that is now being pruned to 25 kgs though the additional 10 kgs would be provided at a subsidized rate.
The proposal is that the subsidy which would be provided by the government would be made up for the increase in the prices being proposed by the government in the cabinet meeting.
It is for the first time after 2002 that there is a proposal to increase the prices and put in place a system which conforms to the UPA promises of making Right to Food a basic right like the right to life, right to education etc. Like the NREGA, the loan waiver scheme, the right to food would be for the poor and the deprived with the aim that no man, woman or child should go to bed hungry at the end of the day.
With Sonia Gandhi relentlessly pressurizing her finance ministers to find money for social sector schemes, for the deprived and the underprivileged, the food security cleared by finance minister Pranab Mukhejee would be yet another historical piece of legislation for the UPA government.