Speculation rife as Cabinet skirts food bill

UPA coordination panel, too, hadn't taken it up in its meeting

The Food Security Bill did not figure in the Cabinet meeting held on Tuesday, leading to suspense on the course that UPA’s proposed game-changing legislation will take, given the differences among ministers and within the partners of the ruling alliance.

Prior to this, the UPA coordination committee in its Monday’s meeting too had not taken up the proposed legislation to provide legal rights to 67 per cent of the population to have access to 5 kg foodgrains at a fixed price of Rs 1-3 per kg through ration shops.

In reply to repeated queries on the fate of the bill, Finance Minister P Chidambaram told reporters, “I cannot answer questions on what was not taken up by the Cabinet.” He said that the bill was before Parliament, as after getting introduced in Parliament, it was referred to a standing committee, which suggested about 100 amendments to the original bill, prompting the government to seek a Cabinet nod.

The government was also weighing the option of bringing an ordinance to give life to the bill and also avoid giving credit to the opposition parties, which they may claim if Parliament passes the bill with amendments.

The Finance Minister did disclose the government’s strategy on the bill. The Cabinet is not meeting this Friday, as this week’s agenda was exhausted in Tuesday’s meet.

On the other hand, Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari reiterated the Congress’ commitment to provide subsidised food to 80 crore Indians. “What will be its format and procedure are being decided. It is in the process. All options are open before the government in this regard,” Tiwari said.

The Food Ministry, which is the nodal ministry for the bill, was not in favour of an ordinance. Even Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh said, “Ordinance should be the last resort.”

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