New Delhi:  The government has convened a two-day meet of state food and agriculture ministers beginning Wednesday to iron out differences over the National Food Security Bill.

Senior union cabinet ministers and government officials, including Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution Minister K.V. Thomas will address the event, said a statement from the Food Ministry on Monday. The gathering is also scheduled to take up reforms in the public distribution system (PDS), procurement of foodgrains and enhancement of storage capacity.

Officials of the Planning Commission and the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) will also participate in the meet. The food bill is the dream project of United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi and is being examined by a parliamentary standing committee.

The bill seeks to cover up to 75 percent of the rural population and 50 percent of urban households and proposes the right to 7 kg food grain per person -- at Rs.3 per kg for rice, Rs.2 per kg for wheat and Rs.1 per kg for coarse grains to the priority below poverty line (BPL) beneficiaries.

The general category (above poverty line or APL) beneficiaries will get at least 3 kg of ration per person per month at half the minimum support price (MSP) of grains.

However, the bill has been criticised by state chief ministers like J. Jayalalithaa (Tamil Nadu), Nitish Kumar (Bihar), Mayawati (Uttar Pradesh) and Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal).

Besides asking the central government to share cost of implementing the various schemes under the bill, the states are also demanding autonomy in deciding the number of beneficiaries.

According to the food ministry, the issue of additional requirement of foodgrain production, procurement, required storage capacity and quality control will be discussed in detail with the respective stakeholders during the meeting. At present, the PDS provides subsidised grains to around 6.5 crore poor families and 11.5 crore above poverty line households.

Sources said PDS suffers from heavy leakages (of up to 40 percent).The government is working on improving procurement infrastructure and optimisation of storage and transportation cost and losses. It is also considering committed transportation system for speedy movement of foodgrain to consuming states from procurement centers.

A move to effect direct payments to farmers to encourage procurement is also being adopted. The central government wants to ask the states to check issuance of bogus ration cards, digitise PDS and ensure grains reach only genuine beneficiaries.

These measures are expected to help the government reduce its current food subsidy burden at Rs.63,000 crore, which is likely to go up substantially once the right to food law is implemented.