Reported by Chinmaya Dehury/Edited by Sandeep Sahu
Bhubaneswar, Aug 21:
The politics over rice is hotting up with each passing day. A day after Union Rural Development minister Jairam Ramesh told Odisha Food, Supplies and Consumer Affairs minister Pratap Keshari Deb that he was ‘completely mistaken’ about the state’s grain entitlement under the National Food Security Bill, the latter has hit back producing figures to refute the Union minister’s contention.
In a letter to Deb yesterday, Ramesh had claimed that far from decreasing, as the former had claimed, Odisha’s food entitlement would actually increase from 20.77 lakh tons to 21.09 lakh tons under the Food Security Bill/Ordinance.
In his reply to Ramesh’ letter despatched today, Deb countered figures quoted by him and produced his own set of figures to claim that the state would be a ‘net loser’ under the new scheme. As against the current allocation of 21.89 lakh tons, the allocation under the NFSO would be 21.09 lakh tons, a net loss of 80, 000 tons, he said. The statistics presented by Deb was based on the current monthly allocation by the Centre under various schemes for different categories of beneficiaries.
After sarcastically ‘thanking’ Ramesh for his interest in a subject he was not dealing as a Union minister, Deb expressed surprise over the fact that “Government of India has taken the average off take of last three years, i.e. 20.77 lakh as the present entitlement of the state”, ending the sentence with not one, but two exclamation marks.
The Odisha Food minister explained away the relatively lower off take mentioned by Ramesh in his letter by pointing to the fact there are no takers for the 38, 341 tons of wheat sent every month by the Centre for APL families since the demand for wheat among APL families in rural areas of the state is ‘negligible’. This, he said, was what was ‘pulling down the overall off take of food grains in the state.”
Deb argued that the NFSO, in its present form, would ‘severely compromise’ food security of poor households, especially in tribal areas. “Can families such as single widows or old couples or destitutes have adequate food for a month with just 5 kg of food grain per head?” he asked, pointing out that the an adult is entitled to 500 grams of grains a day and a child 250 grams a day under the Relief Code during natural calamities. He demanded a relook at the norms for vulnerable sections of the society.
“Since you have shown interest in the matter, I would request you to kindly take up the above concerns of Government of Odisha with your counterpart in the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Government of India, for the benefit of people of Odisha,” Deb signed off with more than a touch of sarcasm.