Even as the government readies to bring out a Food Security Bill (FSB) by the next Budget, the head of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) has come out with a striking critique of the programme. The jointly authored study is posted on the CACP’s website while saying the views are those of the authors and not necessarily of the organisations they work for.
Apart from saying the FSB will likely cost double the Rs 95,000-120,000 crore the government estimates it will cost each year, CACP chief Ashok Gulati and his co-authors point to other major lacunae in the Bill. At the outset, they wonder why, when the government is working on Aadhaar-based cash transfers to take plug huge leakages in most government programmes, it should be looking at expanding the existing PDS in such a massive manner.
While FCI is already groaning under the burden of the current levels of procurement (around 50-55 million tonnes pa) and doesn’t have the space to store the grain, the FSB will require FCI to procure around 25-30 per cent more. Right now, while FCI has around 80 MT of grain, it only has covered or pucca storage facilities for 45 MT; another 17 MTis kept under tarpaulin on raised blocks, leaving the rest in the open fields. As it is, Gulati argues, FCI and state government procurement is edging out private trade from major grain markets, the FSB will only make things worse.
The paper has a lot worse to say in terms of the impact of the FSB on the agricultural sector and on the country’s water table. For one, it points out, there has been a dramatic fall in the yields of wheat from the 1990s to the 2000s. Given this, and the fact that there has been a dramatic fall in the water table in major rice and wheat-producing states, the FSB will mean the water table will be further damaged and major investments will need to be made to achieve higher rice and wheat production.
Given that the need of the sector is to increase diversification — this fetches higher yields and is less water-intensive — the CACP paper argues the FSB will “also slowdown or even regress the process of overall diversification in agriculture, and go contrary to the emerging demand patterns in the country” — while people are consuming more proteins out of choice, the