Congress toils to win TMC support on food bill

Minister Thomas likely to meet Mamata on March 2

Desperate to avert yet another confrontation with the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress, the Centre on Thursday scurried into efforts to take Banerjee on board over the National Food Security Bill ahead of the Budget Session of Parliament.

A day after the West Bengal government formally conveyed its reservations over the National Food Security Bill, Union Food Minister, K V Thomas, promised resolve  differences over the ambitious legislation, which seeks to give legal entitlement to subsidised grains to 75 per cent and 50 per cent of the rural and urban population respectively.

Thomas is likely to travel to Kolkata in the first week of March to meet Banerjee. Food Minister’s office proposed a meeting with West Bengal Chief Minister in Kolkata on March 2.

The NFSB was introduced in Lok Sabha on December 22 last year and is now being vetted by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance Government hopes to get it passed in the ensuing Budget Session.

“I will possibly go to Kolkata on March 2. We will discuss with the State Government about the issues it raised in connection with the proposed National Food Security Act,” Thomas told journalists in New Delhi, after a two-day conference of the food and agriculture ministers of all the States and Union Territories concluded.

The conclave was convened by the Ministry of Food, Public Distribution and Consumer Affairs to discuss ways to strengthen the Targeted Public Distribution System and enhance storage capacity before the NFSB is passed by Parliament.

No minister from West Bengal participated in the conclave, but what sent the alarm bells ringing for the Centre was a note the officials representing the State Government submitted to the Union Ministry of Food, Public Distribution and Consumer Affairs., to put on record its reservations about the NFSB, particularly on the spread of food security net the proposed legislation would put in place.

The NBSB proposes to designate 46 per cent of rural and 28 per cent of urban population as priority groups to be brought under the food security net. But West Bengal Government argued against imposition of any limit by the Centre and sought greater role for itself in selecting the beneficiaries both in the priority and general categories. The TMC has support from the Janata Dal (United) government in Bihar and the AIADMK government in Tamil nadu.

The Congress-led Government at the Centre is worried over the prospects of Banerjee’s AITC – a constituent of the ruling UPA – joining the opposition parties like the AIADMK and JD (U), an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party, to oppose the NFSB in Parliament.

The AITC had in December last joined the other opposition parties to take on the Government on the issue of Lokayukta provisions in Lokpal Bill and the Government’s decision to open up retail sector further for foreign investment.

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