Address TN’s concerns in Food Bill: Jayalalithaa tells PM

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JAYALALITHAChennai, August 3;Flaying the Centre for “unilaterally” and “hastily” promulgating the National Food Security Ordinance 2013, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa on Saturday urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to replace the ordinance with a Bill which addresses the state’s concerns.

“The union Government has unilaterally and hastily promulgated the National Food Security Ordinance, 2013. Though the Ordinance claims to provide food security to all, unfortunately, contrary to such a claim, there are several flaws in the Ordinance which have created serious apprehensions and actually raise the spectre of food insecurity for a State like Tamil Nadu,” she said.

She suggested certain amendments be made in the Bill that is proposed to replace the Ordinance in Parliament.

“There must be a fool proof and firm guarantee in the legislation through an appropriate clause in Chapter VIII of the Ordinance in order to ensure continued adequate level of allocation of food grains to States that are already implementing a Public Distribution System.

“This provision should ensure that the present total allocation of food grains to the State under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana, BPL and APL categories is not reduced”, she told Mr. Singh in a letter.

The proportion of urban population must be increased from 50 per cent to cover the entire urban population, she said, adding, the supply of food grains by the Central Government at the rate currently proposed should be guaranteed, and “not restricted for a period of only three years.”

She ‘strongly’ urged Mr. Singh to ensure that the concerns of Tamil Nadu are addressed through the inclusion of appropriate amendments in the Bill that the Government of India intends to place before Parliament to replace the Food Security Ordinance.

“The Government of India is duty bound to protect the food security of States like Tamil Nadu. Respecting federal and democratic principles, any such Bill should be passed only after a detailed consultation with the States on the whole gamut of issues, addressing specific concerns of different States, and adequate discussion in Parliament.”

Ms. Jayalalithaa said many “lacunae” had been already pointed out in her previous letters, besides being reiterated by her Ministers and officers in several meetings.

“Very disappointingly, and as has become the Central Government’s wont, none of these serious concerns have been addressed in the hurriedly promulgated Ordinance,” she said.

She said the Socio Economic Caste Census (SECC) of 2011 should form the database for an identification of households.

This census process has not been completed and the data was yet to be shared with the State Governments in a final, usable form, the Chief Minister said.

“It is learnt that the Government of India is yet to prescribe guidelines on the manner in which eligible families were to be identified based on the SECC database. In these circumstances, the requirement of finishing the identification of eligible households in six months time is unrealistic and is bound to create many administrative difficulties, exposing the State Governments to needless criticism”, she said.

“Under these circumstances, I would scarcely be exaggerating if I stated that, for Tamil Nadu, this Ordinance is actually a Food Insecurity Ordinance,” she said.

Ms. Jayalalithaa said that Tamil Nadu has been successfully implementing the Universal Public Distribution System for the last several decades and that it has won several accolades, including from the Supreme Court.

“Through this system, the State has been able to address the issue of food security for all without exception. To preserve this hard earned food security, it is essential to ensure that the present level of allocation of food grains from the Central Pool is retained without any diminution.

“Therefore, we had repeatedly requested that a provision be inserted in the relevant clause of the Food Security Bill to protect the existing level of allocation of food grains for Tamil Nadu,” she said.

Ms. Jayalalithaa said she was “deeply dismayed” to find that the Ordinance as promulgated contains no such provision.

Tamil Nadu with an urban population of 49 per cent has the highest level of urbanisation among major States in the country and will be particularly hard hit by this “ill-conceived and invidious discrimination against urban areas in the Ordinance”, she said.

Further, the state was not likely to receive even the nationwide average allocation based on the population proportion as the Joint Secretary, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, had indicated a state-wise break-up of allocation, seeing which she was “shocked,” she said.

Ms. Jayalalithaa pointed out that only 62.55 per cent of the rural population and 37.79 per cent of urban population would be covered in Tamil Nadu, adding that “arbitrarily” chosen metrics have been applied to the data collected in the Large Sample Survey of monthly Household Consumer Expenditure conducted by the National Sample Survey Organisation in 2011-12 and that “such desk exercises” ignore ground realities.

“The overall status of food production in the State, quantity retained by households for own consumption, the net surplus available for the market, and current reliance on the PDS are all crucial and relevant factors for food security which have been totally ignored in determining the State-wise allocation. The arbitrary allocation made is a huge penalty slapped on the better performing States which have provided greater Food Security to their entire population”, she said.

As a consequence of the Ordinance, monthly allocation of food grains for Tamil Nadu would decline by an estimated one lakh tonnes from the present level of 2.96 lakh tonnes.

Preserving the Universal Public Distribution System in Tamil Nadu will then cost the State exchequer a net additional Rs. 3000 crore per annum, she said.

There was no clear-cut indication on how the Centre would maintain the level of subsidy on supply of food grains to the States thereafter, she said, adding that it would only increase the uncertainty in ensuring food security over the long run and expose the State’s finances to an even greater risk.

“Hence, I suggest that Section 23 should be amended to make it incumbent on the Government of India to take all necessary measures, including import of food grains when warranted, to ensure continued supply of food grains and not leave the States to fend for themselves after providing limited financial assistance,” she said.

“I have strong reasons to suspect that the Central Government is deliberately trying to create a Food Security crisis for Tamil Nadu, on the one hand by adopting arbitrary principles and formulae for allocation of food grains in the guise of the Food Security Ordinance, and on the other hand by acting against the interests of the State in receiving its due share of water in the River Cauvery which is crucial for paddy cultivation in the Cauvery delta”, she said.

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