The Government took the ordinance route to implement its ambitious Food Security Bill, after efforts to have a debate in Parliament failed.

“The Food Security Ordinance was unanimously approved by the Cabinet. We are going to the President today itself for his assent,” said Food Minister K. V. Thomas, after the Cabinet meeting. The ordinance will be promulgated once the President signs it.

A pet project of Congress President Sonia Gandhi, the Food Security Bill aims to give legal rights to 67 per cent of the population over a uniform quantity of 5 kg foodgrains a month at Rs 1-3 a kg. Considered a vote-catcher, the Bill seeks to provide cheaper foodgrains to around 80 crore people at an initial annual cost of around Rs 1.25-lakh crore.

Currently, the Government incurs a subsidy burden of about Rs 1-lakh crore in providing subsidised foodgrains to the poor through the public distribution system. The implementation of the Bill would also increase foodgrain requirement by around seven million tonnes to about 61.23 million tonnes.

“We have enough foodgrains stocks and can start issuing them immediately,” a Food Ministry official said. “We have asked the States to be prepared to implement the Bill. The State Governments will have to take up the identification of the beneficiaries,” he added.

The Government decided against convening a special session of Parliament after failing to get any assurance from the Opposition and after its supporter, the Samajwadi Party, conveyed to the Centre that it will not support the Bill.

After a series of discussions in the Congress core group, the leadership reached a consensus to take the ordinance route. The party felt that the Opposition would not allow passage of the Bill in Parliament, as it could become the Congress’ trump card in the general elections next year.

Reacting to the Cabinet’s decision, the BJP said the Government was running away from Parliament, while the CPI (M) said it would oppose the ordinance on the floor of the House.

Welcoming the Centre’s step, the Congress said Bill’s implementation would help the poor

The Centre will have to bring the ordinance in Parliament in the monsoon session, scheduled to begin on July 22. But with the Opposition parties gearing up to raise a number of issues against the Centre, a proper debate in the House during the session seems a far cry.

vishwanath.kulkarni@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on July 3, 2013)
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