Poor can get food at less than price of movie ticket: Delhi minister

New Delhi, Sep 5 (IANS) Be it a rag picker, a rickshaw puller, a labourer or a housemaid, or for that matter any worker who earns less that Rs.100,000 a year - all stand to benefit from the ambitious National Food Security scheme that the Delhi government has rolled out in the national capital, says Delhi's Food and Civil Supplies Minister Haroon Yusuf.

And what's more, each beneficiary will get 25 kg wheat and 10 kg rice a month at less than the price of a movie ticket in Delhi, the minister told IANS in an exclusive interview. While rice will be available at Rs 3 a kg, wheat and coarse cereals could be procured at Rs.2. and Rs.1 per kg respectively.

The scheme, which plans to cover a staggering 7.3 million people, or 32 million families in the capital, is touted by the ruling Congress as a "game-changer" for the assembly elections slated later this year and for the 2014 general elections.

"The beauty of the scheme is that you get 25 kg of wheat at just Rs. 50 and 10 kg of rice at Rs.30, which works out to be Rs.80 -- that is less than the price of a movie ticket in Delhi," Yusuf told IANS in.

The ambitious scheme was launched by Congress president Sonia Gandhi last month and was rolled out in Delhi on Sep 1.

The ruling Congress in Delhi knows that the successful implementation of the central government's food security scheme ahead of assembly elections could help them win a fourth term in the state.

Asked if identifying 7.3 million beneficiaries would be an arduous task, Yusuf, 55, said: "It is not going to be tedious and difficult. We will take people who have Aadhar cards, earn less than Rs.1 lakh as income, people living in unauthorised colonies, rickshaw pullers, rag pickers and those living in F, G or H (low) category of houses."

Yusuf, who has held various portfolios in the Delhi government, rules out any possibility of corruption in the scheme, which is based on the Public Distribution Scheme that faces allegations of corruption.

"Earlier, with the help of bogus ration cards the real beneficiary would be duped of his or her quota of ration. How do we plan to weed out these bogus cards? By using Aadhar cards and linking them with their ration cards. Every individual can have only one Aadhar card and that will have his or her Delhi address. It will put a check on corruption and the real beneficiary would get his entitlement," the minister said in a 30-minute interview at his official residence.

Yusuf said he is "burning the midnight oil" to ensure success of the scheme.

"To get the benefit of the scheme, people must have Aadhar numbers. In case they don't have it we have asked our food supply officers to inform them where they can get it done. If they have the Aadhar enrolment number we will accept that too as we can verify the number from the UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India)," the minister added.

The Delhi government was among the first few Congress-governed states in the country to roll out the United Progressive Alliance's flagship programme which seeks to provide highly subsidised foodgrains to 800 million poor and underprivileged people in India.

Asked how his government would ensure that foodgrains reach the beneficiaries, Yusuf said: "There will be a food security commissioner and anybody can give his complaint if he is not getting food grains. The official would have enough power to prosecute the defaulter."

The Delhi government will also issue smart cards for procuring foodgrains which would be issued in the name of the senior-most woman family member.

"We have readied 4,000 smart cards. Now we will expedite the process. Ninety-two percent of the population already has Aadhar numbers." Yusuf told IANS.

All Below Poverty Line (BPL) families, Above Poverty Line (APL) card holders and Jhuggi (slum) Ration Card (JRC) holders and beneficiaries are to be included in the scheme in Delhi.

Yusuf is candid enough to admit that his party will go to the voters with the scheme.

"We are a political party and when we go to the people we will talk about the scheme, besides other development work done by us. It is helping 73 lakh (7.3 million) people of Delhi. We have every right to say that this is a Congress scheme," Yusuf said.

But he added that it is up to the electorate to decide whether to vote for the Congress, which has been ruling the state since 1998 under Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit.

Asked whether the scheme, which has been dubbed as a "game-changer" for the UPA, has come at an opportune time for the poll-bound Congress in Delhi, he said: "It is unfair to call this scheme as game changer."

"Any sensitive government would do it. Sonia-Ji thought about it and discussed it at length; then only it came in the form of a bill. It is a kind of helping hand to the poor who can at least feed his children," he added.

(Gaurav Sharma can be contacted at gaurav.s@ians.in)

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