Food bill gets LS nod
Amendments to cost govt Rs 5,000 crore more
The Centre managed to scrape past all hurdles to get the “game-changer” Food Security Bill passed in the Lok Sabha late on Monday, with the Samajwadi Party and the DMK withdrawing their amendments.
Food Minister K V Thomas promised that the current off-take of foodgrain by states, a key demand of Tamil Nadu, will be protected. The amendment to the National Food Security Bill is expected to cost the government an additional Rs 5,000 crore.
“Whatever foodgrain comes to the mandis (wholesale markets) will be procured by Food Corporation of India,” he said.
The Samajwadi Party’s (SP) concern over farmers’ due was also addressed by the government, which made it clear that there will be no freeze on minimum support price for procurement of foodgrain.
Thomas dismissed the SP’s charge. He claimed that the matter was deliberated at four meetings of the food ministers and two meetings of the National Development Council, which were also attended by the chief ministers.
Thomas also rejected concerns that the new measure would impinge upon the rights of the states. He said the legislation will become a success only when the Centre and the states work together.
“We will protect the federal system of the country. We don’t want to weaken it,” he said.The bill seeks to provide rice at Rs 3 per kg, wheat at Rs 2 and coarse grain at Re 1 to beneficiaries. The subsidy bill for this ambitious measure is expected to run up to Rs 1.3 lakh crore. The scheme will require 62 million tonnes of foodgrain.
House members had moved 318 amendments, of which 10 official changes to the bill were adopted during a lengthy process stretching over three hours. The process was delayed as the members insisted on division for most amendments. The bill was passed by a voice vote.It will now be taken up for discussion in the Rajya Sabha. A number of amendments moved by the AIADMK had to be voted as party chief and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalitha had made her opposition to the bill known.Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj said the BJP was supporting the bill despite it being “half-baked and weak.”
The nine-hour debate and voting on the bill saw spirited exchanges across the political spectrum.
Thomas promised to modernise the public distribution system and provide 50 per cent assistance to all states. The north-eastern states and Jammu and Kashmir will get 90 per cent assistance.
After the bill gets the Rajya Sabha’s nod, India will join the select league of countries which guarantee foodgrain for a majority of its population.
However, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi were not present when the bill was passed. Sonia Gandhi had to be taken to AIIMS after she took ill.