New Delhi (JPN/Bureau): Arranging for an estimated Rs 40,000 crore for the ambitious Food Safety Bill is going to be a mighty challenge for Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee in Budget 2011. The roadblocks in the way of rolling out this scheme range from a heavy food subsidy bill to shortage of food-grains and a moribund rationing system.

It will be a tough task to introduce a law which mandates Rs3 per kg wheat to the poor. Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council has already listed the problems that will arise from it. The current food subsidy bill is Rs 57,000 cr – it will shoot up to Rs 1 lakh cr once the food Safety Bill is passed.

Even if, due to political reasons, the minister makes a special provision for Rs 40,000 cr, the government’s troubles will not come to an end.

If the Food Safety Bill is introduced in its current form, the scarcity of wheat will be a major problem to be dealt with. Open markets will face a bleak future if government starts buying from them in large quantities. For one, food prices will go through the roof.

On the other hand, food storage is another challenge. Private sector was lured with subsidy to make them participate in increasing the storage capacity to 170 lakh tonne last year but nothing much has come out of it.

In order to rectify the mismanagement of food grains which has led to a spike in food prices, government is depending heavily on ration distribution system. But that system is in shambles, to say the least. There is a possibility of some announcement to get things in order on this aspect.

Results of more than half-a dozen pilot schemes announced last year have not been encouraging. Computerisation of rationing process is still pending and the concerned ministry has requested Mukherjee to make provision for it this Budget.

Bodies like the Food Corporation of India and Central Warehousing Corporation have become white elephants due to their age-old working ways, old storage houses, mismanagement. Food grains rotting in the open, lack of transportation facilities and a food supply chain depending on middlemen have all become the fate of these corporations.

Correcting this picture is one of the challenges before Pranab da.