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Sonia rides on food bill, blows poll bugle

New Delhi, August 26, 2013, DHNS: 1:45 IST
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With a rare speech in the Lok Sabha on the National Food Security Bill, Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Monday blew the bugle for her party’s 2014 poll campaign, flaunting the “empowerment revolution” facilitated by the United Progressive Alliance government since 2004.

“The Food Security Bill is fifth in a series of what might be called our right-based approach. This approach provides legal entitlements to people, puts pressure on the executive to be more responsive and accountable, and also puts in place credible mechanism to redress grievances,” she said, prompting thumping of desks by treasury benches.

The UPA chairperson, who had to leave the House later due to some illness before voting on the bill, said the proposed legislation was an opportunity to transform the lives of “tens of millions” of people who were facing hunger and malnutrition, urging them to set aside their differences and support the passage of the Bill.

“We must, together, rise to the occasion, set aside our differences and affirm our commitment to their welfare and wellbeing. It is my fervent hope and my humble appeal that we, as representatives of those very people, should convert this bill into an act and do so unanimously,” she said.

“Our goal for the foreseeable future must be to wipe out hunger and mal-nutrition from our country. This legislation is only a beginning. As we move forward, we will be open to constructive suggestions; we will learn from experience,” she said in the presence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Gandhi rejected the apprehensions raised by several members, including Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, that the proposed legislation was not in the interest of farmers.“I would like to tell them that both agriculture and farmers are given priority in our policies,”
she said adding that the interest of the beneficiaries of both Antyodaya Yojna, Integrated Child Development project and Mid-Day Meal scheme too were protected under the bill.

She also dismissed questions raised by some of the members whether the Centre had adequate resources and capability to implement the legislation.

“The question is not whether we have enough resources or not and whether it would benefit the farmers or not. We have to arrange resources for it. We have to do it,” she said.

Gandhi accepted that there were lacunae in some of the welfare programmes initiated by government like ICDS and Mid-Day Meal, suggesting that all the political parties could work together to make these schemes. “This is fundamental responsibility of the states,” she added.

The Congress president noted leakages in the Public Distribution System in some of the places in the country, saying this needed reforms.

Gandhi expressed her happiness over bringing of Food Security Bill, saying her party had promised it in its 2009 manifesto.

“UPA Government, in 2005, brought in the Right to Information law. That has ushered in an unprecedented transparency in public life, sometimes, to our own disadvantage,” she said. She added that these laws were outcome of the Congress’ “right-based approach” which brought about an “empowerment revolution” in our country.

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