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PM clears key amendment to food security bill

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Thursday intervened and cleared a key amendment to the Food Security Bill to protect the present grain allocation of states even as senior cabinet ministers expressed reservations on the move, sources said.

According to the sources, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde expressed their reservations at the amendment, which involves an additional burden of Rs.5,000 crore to the exchequer.

But Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath and Food Minister K.V. Thomas pitched for it, arguing it was necessary for the passage of the food security bill, stuck up in the Lok Sabha.

Finally, the prime minister gave his nod to the amendment, after the issue was debated for around 45 minutes in the cabinet meeting, said the sources.

The amendment seeks to address the concerns of 18 states who were to get lesser grain that they get under the existing public distribution system, once the food bill became a law, said sources.

As per the amendment, these 18 states, including Tamil Nadu and Kerala, would continue to get the present quantity of wheat and rice allocated to them at the price charged from the above poverty line people which is Rs.8.70 per kg for rice and Rs.6.10 per kg for wheat.

For instance, Uttar Pradesh will get around 30 lakh tonne more grains and save Rs.9,000 crore in subsidy under the new food bill.

However, there are as many as 17 states which will get more grain under the new food bill in which there will be no BPL or APL category and 67 percent of Indians numbering around 800 million will get subsidized grain at Rs.3 per kg (rice), Rs.2 kg (wheat) and Re.1 a kg for coarse grains, said the sources.

The difference in allocation of states arose after the latest data collected by the National Sample Survey Organization.