UPA defers food bill ordinance, opts for parliament debate

New Delhi, June 13 (IANS) The government, which showed a sense of urgency by seeking to bring UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s pet food security bill to fruition through a decree, deferred the proposal Thursday and gave one last chance to bring both allies and the opposition on board in supporting its flagship welfare legilation.

The bill is seen as a big-ticket legislation of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government and could prove to be a game-changer ahead of the 2014 general elections.

Fearing that, the BJP did not allow it to be debated in the budget session which ended May 8 demanding Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s resignation over faulty coal block alloactions.

Since then a section of the government had been mulling bringing an ordinance on it, which would have indicated the UPA’s commitment to the bill and would have made it difficult for the parties to oppose it in parliament.

Any ordinance, once approved by the president, has to be ratified by the parliament within six weeks of the commencement of the next session.

Though the cabinet was all set to take up the ordinance, the prime minister deferred it saying many political parties had suggested a debate on the bill in parliament.

He has deputed Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath and Food Minister K.V. Thomas to hold fresh consultations with the opposition parties to evolve a consensus on the bill.

While Thomas said the ordinance had not lapsed, Finance Minister P Chidambaram spoke the government’s mind.

“We would like to pass it as a bill but the ordinance version is also ready. We will make one more effort to ask the opposition parties whether they will cooperate in passing the bill in a special session (of parliament). The bill will be passed in a special session of parliament based upon the response of the main opposition party,” he said.

The special session is likely first week of July ahead of the monsoon session scheduled July-August.

The BJP said it favoured passing the bill with “some amendments”.

“We want the food security bill passed in the upcoming monsoon session of parliament with some amendments,” Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Rajnath Singh told reporters.

Key UPA ally, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), said the bill needed to be discussed thoroughly.

Nawab Malik, an NCP legislator from Maharashtra, said: “We want to discuss it on the floor of the house. It is a very important bill and some of the allies also want to discuss the issue.”

The Samajwadi Party, which supports the UPA from outside, also preferred a parliamentary debate.

“It is a very serious issue as all political parties have their own reservations. We want to discuss it in parliament,” said SP spokesperson Kamal Farooqui.

Communist Party of India-Marxist politburo member Sitaram Yechuri said: “We want a serious discussion on this issue as we want that the proposed 67 percent (people) to be covered under the bill should go up to 90 percent.”

The bill aims to provide subsidised food grain to around 67 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people. Around 800 million people – with limited income – would thus get the subsidised grain, at an initial cost of around Rs.1.3 lakh crore (nearly $20 billion).

The beneficiaries of the proposed scheme will be identified on the basis of a formula still to be finalised by the central and state governments.

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