False fears over the food security billOct 17, 2012 | Prof. Jean Dreze
Fears have been expressed about the financial affordability of the food security bill.
These fears are misplaced. In its present form, the food security bill does not require procurement of food grains beyond existing levels.
Besides, procurement levels have been growing at 5 per cent per year in the last 20 years, and there is no reason to expect this upward trend to stop. While the bill does involve some additional financial resources (about Rs 27,000 crores per year according to the Cabinet note), it need not be rolled out in the whole country in one go.
Seen in the context of recent economic trends, including rapid economic growth, even faster growth of public revenue, sustained increase in procurement, growing food stocks, and major improvements of the PDS in many states, the affordability of the food bill is not in doubt.
Last but not least, there are many loopholes and escape routes in the bill. For instance, the extension of the Act to the whole of India is not time bound; the specification of food entitlements can be modified by the central government; and there are three separate provisions for cash transfers in lieu of food subsidies.
With all these loopholes and escape routes in place, it is astonishing that the imminent tabling of the Bill in Parliament is causing such panic in the mainstream media.