Centre defers food bill ordinance

Centre defers food bill ordinance

The Centre on Thursday deferred its plan to promulgate an ordinance on the National Food Security Bill after failing to evolve a consensus among United Progressive Alliance (UPA) allies. It instead decided to take the parliamentary route to get the bill passed.

The government has come under intense criticism from the Opposition for dithering over the important bill. It now wants to pass the bill in a special session of Parliament, though it has not completely ruled out the ordinance route.

The proposal for promulgating an ordinance was discussed briefly at a meeting on Thursday. At the outset, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told the meeting that one last attempt should be made to rope in the Opposition. Subsequently, it was decided to defer the plan.

Congress sources claimed that party president Sonia Gandhi had impressed upon the prime minister the need to reach a consensus and pass the bill in a special session of Parliament, instead of rushing through with an ordinance.

Interestingly, Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, who is said to have reservations over the ordinance, met Singh ahead of the Cabinet meeting. He is believed to have insisted that such significant legislation should not be rushed.

The Samajwadi Party also expressed reservation over the bill, saying that it was against farmers’ interest. There were rumours that the party had threatened to withdraw support to the UPA if the ordinance was introduced. The Congress, however, denied the rumours.

Singh, who held a separate discussion with senior cabinet colleagues, asked Finance Minister P Chidambaram, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and Food Minister K V Thomas to discuss the issue with all political parties and take them into confidence for the special session.

After the hour-long cabinet meeting, Chidambaram said: “The Food Security Bill is ready. We would like to pass it as a bill but the ordinance is also ready. We decided to make one more effort and ask the opposition parties whether they will cooperate in passing the bill in a special session of Parliament. If support from the opposition parties is forthcoming, then the food bill will be passed in the special session.”

While the Congress considers the initiative, promised in the election manifesto for the 2009 general election, to be a game-changer for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, many of its ministers are reportedly against the scheme. They are of the view that the scheme will burden the exchequer.

The government requires 62 million tonne of foodgrain annually to implement the scheme, which guarantees food to 67 per cent of the country’s population. It may cost the exchequer about Rs 1.25 lakh crore annually, around Rs 25,000 crore more than the present expenses.

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