State in a fix over new food programme
With nearly half the population of Maharashtra living in urban areas, the state government finds itself in a corner over the new food programme where the Centre has mandated that over 75 per cent of the subsidised food grains be given to the rural poor
In the midst of politics of one-upmanship between the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the state government has a difficult task ahead — to choose beneficiaries for theambitious food security programme. As no clear guidelines have been prescribed by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, the state will have to decide the criterion and beneficiaries. To find a way out, the Democratic Front government has now set up a cabinet sub-committee, headed by Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan on the issue.
For its flagship programme, the Central government has asked the state to distribute food grains at a much subsidised price of R 1, R 2 and R 3 per kg for coarse grain, wheat and rice respectively. As suggested by the centre, the state will have to provide food grains to 4.7 crore (76.32 per cent) population from the rural parts and 2.3 crore (45.34 per cent) population from the urban areas of the state. The Central government, however, has not given any clear guidelines to select beneficiaries. Also, the percentage of people below the poverty line suggested for the urban areas is much less compared to the ratio of the poor population in these areas.
As per the census figures of 2011, almost 45.22 per cent of the state’s total population resides in urban areas and the remaining 54.78 per cent resides in rural areas. While the state will supply more food to rural areas, the urban population may be left without enough food as the Centre assumes that 75 per cent of the population in each state lives in rural areas. As a result, the state will have to cut down the number of beneficiaries from urban population.
This task is being viewed as arduous as the number of State assembly and Lok Sabha constituencies in urban areas is higher and crucial. Mumbai and Thane alone comprise 60 constituencies of State assembly and 10 Lok Sabha seats. It’s the same scenario in other urban centres such as Pune, Nashik, Aurangabad, Solapur, Nagpur and Amravati,” said a senior government official.
Usually, the central government prescribes the formula for implementation of any programme and provides guidelines to select the beneficiaries. It’s difficult to understand why the UPA government has avoided the crucial issue and let the states face the music, said the official.
As the state bureaucracy did not want to accept any blame while selecting the beneficiaries, the job has now been entrusted to the political leadership. Accordingly, a nine-member sub-committee has been asked to find a solution. It will have to figure out the beneficiaries before December 1, the date announced by Food and Civil supplies minister Anil Deshmukh who belongs to NCP.
To adhere to the announcement, the sub-committee will have to finish its task within a month so that the district level offices gear up for the ambitious programme. According to the official, the government will have to face the wrath of the urban population as a huge number will have be omitted to implement the programme.
In view of the forthcoming Lok Sabha and State assembly elections, it will be interesting to see how the DF government implements the programme.