New Delhi: Sonia Gandhi, chief of India’s ruling Congress party, yesterday rolled out the ambitious food security scheme.
The scheme which promises to provide wheat, rice and coarse grain at a highly subsidised rate to nearly 67 per cent of India’s 1.2 billion population was launched on the 69th birth anniversary of Sonia’s husband Rajiv Gandhi, a former prime minister of the country.
“This (food security) was the dream of Rajiv Gandhi. He had seen poverty from close quarters. He wanted to do something for the uplift of the poor. We have to be responsible for lives of the poor and that is why the food security bill was introduced (in parliament). We wanted to make the poor self-dependent,” Gandhi said. She was speaking at the inaugural function held at New Delhi’s Talkatora Stadium.
Sonia gave away food security ration cards to some beneficiaries along with a 5kg packet of rice in a symbolic gesture.
Terming the scheme that entitles every BPL (below poverty line) card owners 5kg rice at Rs3 per kg, or 5kg wheat at Rs2 per kg or 5kg coarse grain for Rs1 per kg as unparalleled in the world, Sonia said the idea was to feed every poor person in the country.
“We have people who still don’t get food and there are children who are malnourished. We decided to bring this scheme so that every poor gets food and no child sleeps without food,” Sonia said in her speech.
The scheme, besides providing staple food grain at a highly subsidised rate, also focuses on nutritional support to women and children. Pregnant women and lactating mothers, besides being entitled to nutritious meals as per the prescribed nutritional norms will also receive maternity benefit of at least of Rs6,000. Children in the age group of six months to 14 years will be entitled to take home ration or hot cooked food as per prescribed nutritional norms.
Delhi is among the four Congress party-led states apart from Haryana, Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh to roll out the scheme. The beneficiaries will start getting regular supply through the public distribution shops from September 1.
In its race against time to roll out the scheme well before crucial state assembly elections in five states in December this year, the Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government opted to promulgate presidential ordinance. The ordinance needs to be passed by parliament which will now take up discussion on it Thursday.
The food security bill was slated to be discussed in both houses of parliament yesterday. It could not, however, take it up as the opposition forced day-long adjournment over missing files in the coal block allocation scam being probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, however, is not happy with the bill, particularly its timing. “This is not the food security bill but vote security bill. It is a gimmick ahead of the elections to get votes,” senior Delhi BJP leader Jagdish Mukhi said.
Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit refuted the allegation. “We are doing no wrong, we haven’t violated any code of conduct. The food bill is part of the Congress (party’s) manifesto,” Dikshit said.
67 per cent of India’s 1.2 billion people, or 800 million people to benefit from the food security scheme.
The scheme will cost the government approximately Rs. 1.25 trillion annually.
Rice to be provided at the rate of Rs. 3 per kg, wheat at Rs. 2 per kg and coarse grain at Re. 1 per kg.
Those covered under the Antodaya scheme (poorest of the poor on the threshold of starvation) will continue to get 35 kg of wheat at Rs. 2. Per kg and rice at Rs. 3 per kg.
The BPL (below poverty line) card holders to get 5 kg of either rice or wheat per person instead of 24 kg wheat and 10 kg rice earlier. They will benefit immensely as earlier they got wheat at the rate of Rs. 7.05 per kg and rice at Rs. 9.25 per kg.