M A I N   N E W S

Govt defers food Bill ordinance
* Wants debate in House
* Forms 3-member panel to bring Oppn on board
Vibha Sharma/TNS

New Delhi, June 13
The Congress-led UPA today constituted a three-member committee to hold consultations with the Opposition and evolve a consensus on convening a special session of Parliament for the passage of the ambitious National Food Security Bill.

The idea was mooted after a divided Cabinet rejected the idea of promulgating an ordinance to implement the legislation on which the UPA now hopes to ride during the next general election.

After the meeting, Finance Minister P Chidambaram said one more effort would be made to seek Opposition’s cooperation on the Bill.

“The Food Security Bill is ready. We would like to pass it as a Bill but ordinance version of the Bill is also ready. We decided on Thursday that we would like to make one more effort to ask the Opposition if they will cooperate in passing the Bill in a special session of Parliament,” he said.

The ordinance route was opposed not just by the Opposition - the BJP and the Left - but also key UPA allies - the NCP, the RLD, the NC and the IMUL - besides some Congress leaders.

While the Congress has blamed the Opposition for stalling party president Sonia Gandhi’s dream project, the fact of the matter is that the Samajwadi Party, which supports the UPA from outside, is also opposed to the legislation, calling it “anti-farmer”.

Though NCP leader and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar’s objections to the Bill are more related to logistics, allies such as Ajit Singh, Farookh Abdullah and E Ahmad want the legislation to be cleared through Parliament. Sources said after some Congress leaders also voiced objection to the ordinance, the decision was taken to adopt the special session route.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh mandated Home Minister and Leader of the Lok Sabha Sushilkumar Shinde, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath and Food Minister KV Thomas to meet the Opposition leaders and build a consensus.

While there is still no guarantee that the special session will yield a positive outcome, Congress managers feel the message to the people will be clear: “The Congress wants to implement the food Bill and tried all routes but the Opposition refused to cooperate.”

The BJP is well aware of this, which is why it is approaching the entire issue with utmost caution.

BJP president Rajnath Singh said his party wanted the Bill to be passed in the monsoon session but with certain amendments, while spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman gave the example of the Chhattisgarh Bill, which she said should be adopted as the model legislation for any such effort.

“We are in favour of discussing the Bill in Parliament,” she said, without offering any commitment.

The decision to adopt the Parliament route was welcomed by the JD(U) and the Left parties. While the Left will move amendments for a universal public distribution system, the BJP, the Trinamool Congress, the BJD and the AIADMK also want certain changes.

The ordinance route has not been completely shelved and still remains an option. Thomas said the proposal of ordinance was still with the Cabinet, while Chidambaram hoped that if the support from the Opposition was “forthcoming”, the legislation would be passed in a special session of Parliament. “Based on the response of the main Opposition, we will have to take a view,” he said.

The Bill was tabled in the Budget session but could not be taken up for discussion following pandemonium over various scams. It aims to give legal rights to 67 per cent of the population a quantity of 5 kg food grain at a fixed price of Rs 1-3 per kg through ration shops.

The final push

  • The PM has asked Sushilkumar Shinde, Kamal Nath and KV Thomas to meet the Opposition to convince it for a special session of Parliament
  • The BJP wants the Bill to be passed in the monsoon session but with some amendments
  • Key UPA allies and some Congress leaders are opposed to the ordinance route; the SP calls the Bill ‘anti-farmer’

We would like to make one more effort to ask the Opposition on whether they will cooperate in passing the Bill in Parliament. — P Chidambaram, FM





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