Ignoring concerns expressed by allies and civil society groups, the United Progressive Alliance government is all set to push for an ordinance on the Food Security Bill. The revised Bill along with Food Ministry’s 81 amendments will be tabled for approval in the Union Cabinet meeting on Thursday.
Food Minister K.V. Thomas and key ally and NCP chief Sharad Pawar are known to have expressed concern over taking the ordinance route. Some of the allies have also let it be known that the proposal for an ordinance was moved during the previous Cabinet meeting without prior consultation. The Cabinet however, did not take it up.
It is learnt that Mr. Thomas met Congress president Sonia Gandhi last week after which he spoke to UPA allies, including Mr. Pawar, Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh and Farooq Abdullah of the National Conference to get them on board. Both Mr. Pawar and Mr. Ajit Singh have made it a point to attend Thursday’s Cabinet meeting.
Despite his reservations, Mr. Pawar stated recently that he was not against the Bill, indicating his willingness to go along with whatever the Cabinet decides.
The government has justified an ordinance on the ground that the Opposition had thwarted all its attempts to bring the Bill in Parliament (although the revised Bill was brought on the last day of the budget session) and that the rollout would take at least six months.
There is also a view that in case the principal Opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, does not allow Parliament to function and the ordinance cannot be ratified by Parliament, then the UPA will go to the polls with the claim that the BJP did not allow a rights-based bill to be passed.
On its part, the BJP wants to show its support for the Bill by seeking an early monsoon session or a special session to debate it. The Left parties will move amendments mainly for a universal public distribution system. The Trinamool Congress, Biju Janata Dal and All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam will also move amendments. The Samajwadi Party, which supports the UPA from outside, has opposed the Bill terming it “anti-farmer.”
However, it appears that the UPA, particularly the Congress, wants to go it alone, this being an election promise. Already some of the States have enacted rights-based food Bill and several others are providing foodgrain through the public distribution system.
The Food Bill seeks to provide rice at Rs. 3 per kg, wheat at Rs. 2 per kg and millets at Re. 1 per kg per month to 67 per cent of the population to be identified by the State governments. Each beneficiary will be entitled to 5 kg per month as against 35 kg per household at present.