National Food Security Act covers over 53 Cr Beneficiaries

Over 11 crore households consisting of 53 crore beneficiaries are being allocated highly subsidised foodgrains under National Food Security Act (NFSA), at Rs. 2 /Kg wheat and Rs. 3 /Kg rice. Now 25 States/UTs have started implementing the NFSA. The Government is making all efforts to ensure that remaining States/ UTs also start implementing the Act at earliest.

The Government accords highest priority to the implementation of the National Food Security Act (NFSA) to ensure access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable price to people to live life with dignity. The endeavour of the Government is to transparently and efficiently implement the NFSA to better target the beneficiaries.

The NFSA came into force in July, 2013. In the first ten months, 11 States/UT had started implementation of NFSA covering about 7 crore households. Implementation in some of the States was started hurriedly without completing all the requisite preparations. Consequently problems were faced. Uttarakhand had to roll back the implementation and Bihar also faced initial problems in distribution.

The Government laid emphasis and started reviewing the status of preparations for implementation of NFSA with a focused approach. Since July 2014, seven Conferences/Workshops have been held at the highest level with State Governments under the Chairmanship of Minister Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution or Secretary, Department of Food & Public Distribution. Regular Video Conferences are being held with individual State Governments to sort out problems relating to digitization of data of beneficiaries, online allocation of foodgrains, online grievance redressal system, automation of Fair Price Shops, etc.

As a result, 14 more States have started implementation of NFSA in the last six months and presently, highly subsidised foodgrains under NFSA are being allocated for about 53 crore beneficiaries (approx. 11 crore households). The Government is making all efforts to ensure that the remaining 11 States/UTs also start implementation of the Act.

Under the erstwhile Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), only about 2.5 crore AAY households were entitled to receive wheat and rice at Rs. 2 and 3 per kg respectively, while households under Below Povery Line (BPL) and Above Poverty Line (APL) categories received foodgrains at higher rates. Compared to this, under the NFSA, 81.34 crores persons, or about 16.6 crore households, are entitled for subsidized foodgrains at Rs. 2/ 3 per kg for wheat/rice. The estimated foodgains requirement for implementation of the NFSA Act is about 61.4 million tons per annum, compared to annual requirement of about 56 million tons under erstwhile TPDS.

Besides the benefit of highly subsidized prices for a much larger coverage of the population, which is available to all the States/UTs, there are 17 States/UTs which gain in terms of quantity of foodgrains allocation, compared to their allocation under erstwhile TPDS. For the remaining States/UTs, a special provision has been made to protect their average annual offtake under erstwhile TPDS, so that no State/UT faces any reduction in their requirement. Furthermore, under the NFSA State Governments receive Central assistance for expenditure on intra-State movement and handling of foodgrains as well as a fair price shop (FPS) dealers’ margin.

The Act also focuses on nutritional requirements of pregnant women and children upto 14 years of age by entitling them to receive nutritious meals, free of cost. Nutritional standards of the meals have been prescribed in the Act itself. Pregnant women and lactating mothers are entitled to receive maternity benefit of Rs. 6,000/- per pregnancy.

For successful implementation of the Act, stress is being laid on end-to-end computerisation for which States/UTs are being technically and financially assisted. This is a significant initiative for bringing in transparency in the functioning of the PDS system, a vital feature of NFSA, in order to check leakages and diversion of foodgrains. The beneficiary data base has been digitized in 33 States/UTs, wherein, information is available right upto beneficiary level and is in the public domain. Online allocation of foodgrains in being done in 17 States/UTs, and the entire foodgrain supply chain has been computerized in 9 States/UTs. All States have set up grievance redressal systems including online facilities and toll free numbers.

Two different modes have been adopted towards better targeting and leakage-free distribution of foodgrains, In the first mode (DBT), food subsidy is being transferred in cash into the bank account of beneficiaries, who then have the choice to buy foodgrains from the open market. This has been started in two UTs of Chandigarh and Puducherry. The second mode, involves FPS automation, for distribution of foodgrains through a point of sale (PoS) device which authenticates beneficiaries at the time of distribution and also electronically captures the quantum of foodgrains distributed to the family. At present PoS devices are operational in about 59,500 shops. This number is targeted to go up to 1.5 lakh FPS by March, 2016 and 5.42 lakh by March, 2017. States/UTs are being extended Central assistance to install PoS devices at FPS seeded with Aadhaar numbers in the beneficiary data base. Ration card-wise seeding of Aadhaar has gone up from 8% at the end of April, 2015 to 39% by mid December, 2015 and is being constantly monitored.

As a result of such endeavors 61.43 lakh bogus/duplicate/in-eligible ration cards have been deleted in the last 2 years, thus stopping diversion and misuse of foodgrains in the PDS system amounting to about Rs. 4200 crore.

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