Mumbai: Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar on Friday pressed for a rethink on the quantum of subsidy in the Food Security Bill, touted as a 'pet' project of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, saying that such huge concessions could lead to "serious" food security problem.

"A thought should be given to whether giving concession to 70 percent populace across the board is necessary," Pawar said, adding there was nothing wrong in "gaining popularity", but the larger reality should be kept in mind.

Addressing NCP workers after inaugurating its renovated office here, he said, "Now, we are enacting the Food Security Bill. Foodgrains are the need of everyone and there is no doubt about it. However, we buy wheat for Rs 18 per kg and wish to provide it for Rs 2 per kg to 68 per cent of the people."

"I have only one thing to say. If the cost is Rs 18, give 50 percent subsidy, give 75 percent subsidy. But what worries me is something else. When 70 percent people get wheat at Rs 2 per kg in market, which is a good thing, what about the farmer who produces it? Who will give him remunerative price for his produce when it is available at such cheap rate in market?

"I feel the price (for his produce) will decline. If that happens, the farmer will go in for cultivation of other crop. And if he does that, the country's food security problem will get serious," Pawar said.

The Minister, who has in the past too expressed reservations on the feasibility of the scheme, said though there was nothing wrong in gaining popularity, "in order to do so, don't go to such an extreme position that everything is lost."

Stressing the need for striking a balance, Pawar said, "I feel that when we give something free or at nominal price, that thing loses its value."

Recalling Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's speech at the NDC meet, he said there was a reference to the decline in the number people living below poverty line by two percent every year.

"The number of those living below poverty line is declining but our concessions are increasing," he said. Today, those working on Mahatma Gandhi NREGA scheme in Maharashtra get Rs 145 per day, Pawar said. If that person buys his monthly allocation of 35 kg wheat at Rs 2 per kg, he buys his month's stock for Rs 70 and of two months for Rs 140.

"Do give all concessions to someone who does not have anything to eat, but a thought should be given to whether giving concession to 70 percent populace across the board is necessary," he said, adding there was nothing wrong in adopting a different approach for weaker sections, dalits and minorities.

(Agencies)

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