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Read text of Pranab Mukherjee's speech during budget session of the Parliament. He touched upon various issues like the slow economic growth, growth in agriculture and allied sectors to India's role at Doha climate conference & called for greater transparency in governance.

Emphasising that the money involved in giving food subsidy should be treated as high priority, Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia on Friday said the subsidy should not be linked with fiscal deficit.

“The money involved in food subsidy can be treated as high priority and should not be linked with fiscal deficit. The food subsidy bill can be met. I see no merit in subsidising diesel. We can't subsidise petrol and fertilizers and these are the subsidies that we need to get rid of,” Ahluwalia said at a panel discussion at IIT, Delhi.

Current grains allocation, AAY entitlement will be protected under the Bill, he assures States

Responding to concerns expressed by several States on a possible cut in food grains allocation under the National Food Security Bill, the Centre on Thursday gave an assurance that the current allocation will be protected and so will the Antyodaya Anna Yojna (AAY) entitlement for the poorest of the poor. The Bill, Minister of State for Food K.V. Thomas said, would be reworked to make it “practical” and “acceptable.” It was proposed to be presented in the budget session of Parliament.

While the UPA government is seeking to push its ambitious food guarantee law in the forthcoming Budget Session of Parliament, many state governments on Wednesday objected to several provisions in the proposed Bill with Tamil Nadu seeking an outright exemption citing lack of clarity in the Bill.

A meeting of state food ministers was convened on Wednesday by the Centre to discuss the National Food Security Bill. Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh, in fact, wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh highlighting his reservation on issues related to quantum of foodgrain being guaranteed and ceiling on beneficiaries being imposed on states among other issues.

The Union government’s direct cash transfer scheme linked to the Unique Identification (UID) number was launched with much fanfare in January with pilots in five districts of Rajasthan. The government believes this initiative is a game changer, which will successfully plug leakages in delivering entitlements to the poor and pluck out fake beneficiaries.

Indian households purchased much more food items through the public distribution system (PDS) in 2009-10 than they did five years ago, the 66th National Sample Survey has indicated, raising doubts over the effectiveness of the government’s new direct cash transfer system over a large base.

Greater penetration and higher use of the PDS will make it difficult for the government to eventually deliver the Rs 75,000-crore food subsidy to its eligible beneficiaries.

Recommends a mandatory coverage of 67 per cent of population for subsidised grains

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Food has recommended a mandatory coverage of 67 per cent of the country’s population for subsidised rice, wheat and millets under the National Food Security Bill with a reduced and uniform monthly entitlement of 5 kg per person. As opposed to an overwhelming demand from States and civil society groups for universal public distribution system to ensure “food and nutrition security,” the UPA government’s ambitious Bill proposes coverage of 75 per cent rural and 50 per cent urban population at 2011 census figures.

Read this report on the on the much-debated Food Security Bill, 2011 presented by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution.

To bring about a synergy between the proposed direct transfer of food subsidies and the food security Bill, which will provide legal entitlement for cheap grain to a majority of India’s population, a Parliament standing committee has suggested states have the option of choosing between the two.

The suggestion has not been included as part of the report but is just mentioned in remarks. The committee, expected to give its final report to the Lok Sabha Speaker soon, has said it should be optional on states whether they want to go for distribution of cheap foodgrain under the food security scheme or distribute cash directly to beneficiaries.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee examining the National Food Security Bill is considering to recommend to the government to do away with the categorisation of “general” and “priority” (similar to the below poverty line) households in the legislation and provide uniform food guarantee to 75 per cent of the rural population and 50 per cent of the urban population.

Keeping in mind the fiscal implications, the committee is likely to suggest bringing down the food grain entitlements from 7 kg per person per month which is proposed in the Bill to five kg per person per month.