No differences with Pawar on food bill: Congress

New Delhi, June 7 (IANS) The Congress Friday said there were no differences with Agriculture Minister and NCP leader Sharad Pawar, who said that the National Food Security Bill should be debated in parliament even as the government weighed the pros and cons of bringing it through an ordinance.

“There is no division (in the UPA government). We have great regard for Pawar,” Congress spokesperson Renuka Chowdhury told reporters when asked for the party’s response on Pawar’s statement on the bill.

The bill, United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s pet legislation, is stuck in parliament as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) did not allow it to be debated in the Lok Sabha during the budget session, which ended May 8. The BJP wanted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to resign over the faulty allocations of coal blocks and did not allow the bill to be debated until he quits.

Since then, a section of the government has been pushing the idea of implementing the provisions of the bill through an ordinance, which too will have to pass parliament’s scrutiny.

Pawar said in Mumbai Friday that he favoured the bill but wanted it to be debated in parliament, indicating his opposition to an ordinance.

“I am in favour of approving the food bill through discussion in parliament, which is the highest forum,” Pawar told reporters.

However, he clarified: “The issue is how, whether through ordinance or debate in parliament. I am not opposed to the bill,” he said.

In the past, Pawar has expressed his reservations on the bill, saying it would entail a huge subsidy burden on the exchequer, and could harm the interests of the farmers.

The bill aims to provide subsidised grains to around 67 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people numbering around 800 million.

It is seen as a big ticket legislation of the Congress-led UPA government and could prove to be a game changer ahead of the 2014 general elections.

The government has also been toying with the idea of calling a special session of parliament to pass the bill but the BJP has shot down the idea saying it would rather prefer advancing the monsoon session, scheduled July-Aug, for this.

Congress sources said since the bill has a large number of amendments (71) and has to be implemented by the state governments, parliament is the best forum to approve it rushing it through via the ordinance route.

For the record, Chowdhury said: “Passing it in parliament is our plan A, but if that doesn’t happen because of the opposition’s stubbornness, plan B and plan C are also there.”

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath has been holding informal talks with opposition leaders to evolve a consensus on the bill.

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