The UPA thinks this it will get some mileage out of the scheme, that was why the Cabinet hurriedly cleared it and Sonia Gandhi too gave a nudge. Will this get votes in UP? (Where, by the way, her beloved son has been bivouacking. If he does not win it will prove he is no leader there and has no place in Delhi).
Back to the Bill. Food campaign activists continue to press for universalisation of the PDS, Sharad Pawar himself admits that the country will have to produce a huge quantity of grain. The general opinion is that the government should not grudge the money involved, for entitlement to food is our right, and the very poor must get it either free or at an 'affordable' price. It is proposed to give coupons and cash transfers to the destitute or starving.
The scheme will cost Rs 95 k crore, The States will have to share the cost, but how many will? Will it be a social welfare or a waste of money. The aims sound good, because starvation and malnutrition levels are high. Farmers on the one hand complain of stiff restrictions, harassment, officials demanding bribes.
On the other hand, we often read reports of huge quantities of buffer stock grain rotting in FCI godowns; the Supreme Court itself had to intervene and ask government to sell the grain through its PDS. Scientists keep saying that there is no money for research, nothing as incentive.
Why the problem? Farmers want a free market say, all controls removed, they say the minimum price is too low, last and most important this torture of farmers by moneylenders should be ended, only then will suicides too end.
As mentioned earlier how many States will comply with this proposal? Tamilnadu was, probably, the first to say No, then Bihar. Jayalalithaa said her State had been implementing, successfully, its public distribution system all these years.
The Central Bill is replete with confusion and inaccuracies. The classification of priority households and general households is unscientific. And why restrict the coverage under targeted distribution system to 75 per cent of the rural population and 50 per cent of the urban population?
Traders too have expressed their displeasure and concern over some of the clauses, which they say are draconian. For instance the increase in licence fee -- it proposes Rs 10000; moreover the Bill talks of punitive action. The inspecting authorities will be armed with wide discretionary powers.
This -- here they may be justified -- will lead to further graft in the form of bribes. Officials can levy a fine of Rs one lakh to 10 lakh; and imprisonment for adulteration -- six months to life. Hope Delhi learns.