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Give food stamps to poor instead of subsidised food: FICCI

New Delhi, May 23 (IANS) The government should issue food stamps directly to families living below poverty line (BPL), instead of subsidised food, to ensure food security of the poor, an industry lobby said in a report.

The Federation of India Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) said the current system of providing subsidised food items through the public distribution system (PDS) should be dismantled as it was plagued by leakages at different levels.

It said food stamps should be introduced in the country as the PDS has failed to serve BPL families. The PDS has an urban bias and is not transparent. It does not have accountable arrangements for delivery and its coverage is negligible in states with highest concentrations of rural poor.

The report said the issuance of food stamps should be coupled with ‘compulsory participation of adult members of BPL families in social sector schemes’.

Such a condition would provide the incentive for BPL adult members to participate in developmental work and at the same time protect them and their families from rising food prices, the report added.

Food stamps are pieces of secure paper, issued for the purchase of a fairly wide range of specified foods. Consumers are usually free to use food stamps to buy any quantity of foods they wish at market prices from any store that is convenient to them.

The stores are bound by contracts and penalties to adhere to the terms of usage. They cannot give anything other than what has been specified, nor can they encash or give back change on food stamp purchases.

The report said the government should link the redemption of food stamps to participation in other social security schemes, like compulsory enrolment of children in schools, maintenance of children attendance above a specified threshold per month, or regular health checkups.

And, as there is a distinct possibility of food stamps being counterfeited, the report said, appearance-related features of food stamps should be ‘technologically superior, smart and secure’ that would make fraudulent practices ‘extremely difficult, if not impossible’.

FICCI also said states should step up efforts to identify the beneficiaries of such a programme.

‘As the Unique Identification Project will be in operation within a few years, food stamps must be synchronized in conjunction with the UID for better targeting and implementation,’ it said.

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