Cong states join protests on Food Bill Posted: Mon Nov 21 2011 New Delhi: Cutting across party lines, most state governments have objected to the National Food Security Bill proposed by the Centre, which is likely to be tabled in the Winter Session of Parliament. Their objections range from seeking powers to decide on criteria that would make a person eligible as a beneficiary under the proposed law â€œso as not to encourage the existence of vagabondsâ€, to asking the Centre to bear the entire cost of implementation of the scheme, and seeking an â€œunambiguousâ€ definition of the term starvation. In their responses to the Centre on the proposed law, which the UPA-II government hopes to make a flagship programme similar to UPA-Iâ€™s National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), most of the states have expressed strong views against the present format of the Bill. * For instance, Congress-ruled Rajasthan wants removal of the clause empowering the central government to conduct social audit of the implementation of the public distribution system (PDS) and functioning of ration shops. * Another Congress-ruled state, Maharashtra, has opposed the idea of having Food Commissions at the national and state levels to monitor the implementation of the proposed law. â€œSetting up of State and National Food Security Commissions parallel with the existing arrangements â€” such as State Human Right Commission, State Consumer Redressal Commission, State Commissions for SC/ST, Minorities and Women â€” will only lead to expansion of bureaucracy and duplication of functions of existing institutions,â€ it has said. Maharashtra has also red-flagged provisions in the proposed Act which empower the proposed State Commission to issue guidelines to state governments regarding the implementation of the scheme. * Echoing the objection, the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led Madhya Pradesh government has also â€œstrongly objected to the creation of such a commissionâ€ as it will â€œonly add to the existing bureaucracyâ€ and render the department meant for this job â€œsuperfluousâ€. * In an important suggestion, the Bihar government wants an â€œindependent bodyâ€ â€” an Identification Commission on the lines of the Election Commission â€” to undertake the process of identification and listing of beneficiaries in order to ensure transparency. In fact, Bihar has raised the most objections, ranging from â€œinadequate attention to meeting the nutritional requirements of the poor based upon scientific parametersâ€ to putting additional financial burden on the states without â€œmaking adequate financial provisionsâ€. The Nitish Kumar government has also told the Centre that it would â€œpreferâ€ a system of cash transfers to the time consuming, cost-intensive PDS reform since it would mean less leakages and minimum implementation cost. * On the other hand, the Left Front government in Tripura has â€œstrongly opposedâ€ the cash transfer option. â€œSupply of foodgrain is to be ensured by the Government of India to the states which are deficit in food production,â€ it has said. * The BJP government in Chhattisgarh has suggested that the National Food Commission should be empowered to hear the complaints by state governments and pass appropriate recommendations to the Centre. However, the Centre has said that â€œsubordinate statutory bodies created by an Act of Parliament cannot be conferred such powers. They cannot have functions to direct a sovereign government that created it.â€ Chhattisgarh has also suggested that the Centre should allow the state governments to use the services of the State Food Security Commissions for monitoring the implementation of other welfare schemes in the state. * Punjab has asked the Centre to share the cost of transporting the foodgrain to the ration shops. * In West Bengal, the Mamata Bannerjee-led government has suggested that the â€œrestrictionâ€ of six months of free meals to persons living in starvation should be dropped. In this context, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh governments have sought an unambiguous definition of what should be construed as starvation. The special provisions proposed in the food security law specifically for persons living in starvation, homeless and destitute has attracted the attention of almost all the 18 state governments whose responses have been compiled in the Cabinet note. Most states have asked the Centre to refrain from interfering in matters like qualifications, methods and terms of appointments of district-level grievance redressal officers. * Manipur is the only state that has agreed â€œin totoâ€ to the draft National Food Security Bill, while Congress-led Kerala government has favoured adoption of the Sonia Gandhi-led NACâ€™s proposals â€œin totoâ€. â€œWe will place the views of the states along with our comments before the Cabinet. It is for the Cabinet to take a final view on the issue,â€ said a senior officer.