Food Minister meets Manmohan for review of foodgrains procurement policy

Gargi Parsai

Rangarajan Panel recommendations on decontrol of sugar industry discussed

Union Food & Consumer Affairs Minister K.V. Thomas met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday and sought a review of the open-ended foodgrains procurement policy.

He also discussed the Rangarajan Panel recommendations on decontrol of sugar industry, the National Food Security Bill, which has been referred to a Parliamentary Standing Committee, and the proposed panel within the Consumer Affairs Department on FDI in multi-brand retail.

The government has already procured about 82 million tonnes of food grains this year against 55 million tonnes purchased from farmers last year.

While the government cannot refuse the arrival of grains at procurement centres for the Central pool, with limitations on storage and an escalating subsidy bill, there is a move to put a cap on food grains procurement for the public distribution system (PDS). The food subsidy bill is estimated at about Rs. 97,000 crore.

The Food Corporation of India (FCI) has offloaded three million tonnes of wheat in the open market. A proposal for offloading another seven million tonnes will come up in the next meeting of the Cabinet. At the same time about 1.5 million tonnes of wheat has been exported out of the 2 million tonnes for which permission had been given. Food stock on October 1 was 71 million tonnes.

The Minister also apprised the Prime Minister about the inter-ministerial panel set up for interacting with States and traders on issues that may arise after the implementation of FDI in multi-brand retail. The Consumer Affairs Department is the nodal Ministry, with the Minister as the chairman.

“I met the Prime Minister and apprised him of the panel on trade reforms. I briefed him on the finalisation of the members list and terms of reference of the committee,” Mr. Thomas later told journalists. The committee will hold its first meeting this month when it will discuss the setting up of sub-committees, among other issues.

The Ministry will formulate its views on the recommendations of the Rangarajan panel in two months. While the panel recommended total decontrol of sugar, it suggested doing away with the free-sale quota norm and the 10 per cent levy for PDS. The government could purchase its requirement for PDS from the open market, said the panel chaired by C. Rangarajan, who heads the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council.

The Minister later met Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and sought his views on the issues at hand.