TMC to confront govt on food bill

After forcing the United Progressive Alliance government to defer opening up of the retail sector for foreign investments, Mamata Banerjee’s All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) -  a part of the ruling alliance - is now set to close ranks with Opposition parties against the National Food Security Bill (NFSB).

The West Bengal chief minister and her party have serious reservations on the NFSB, introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 22. The AITC is likely to gang up with the Janata Dal (United) and Jayalalitha’s AIADMK to oppose certain provisions of the Bill in Parliament.

Banerjee’s government in West Bengal, Jayalalitha’s in Tamil Nadu and Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) government in Bihar conveyed to the Centre their reservations on the NFSB, which is now being vetted by the parliamentary standing committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution.

The NFSB, a legislation promised by the Congress ahead of the Lok Sabha polls in 2009, is believed to be close to party president Sonia Gandhi’s heart. The Congress hopes that the Bill, if passed by Parliament, would help it in 2014 general elections as much as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act had in 2009.

“We oppose the Bill, as it does not ensure food security to all, but seeks to limit the number of people to be covered by it,” Tamil Nadu Food Minister R Kamraj told Deccan Herald. He was in New Delhi to take part in a national conference of food and agriculture ministers in states and Union Territories.

The conclave was convened by the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution to discuss ways to strengthen and plug the loopholes in the targeted public distribution system and augment storage capacity before the National Food Security bill is passed by Parliament.

While 75 per cent of the rural population will be covered by the food security net that the proposed legislation seeks to create, 46 per cent of them will be designated as priority households. Half the urban population will be covered by the proposed legislation, while 28 per cent of them will be tagged as priority households.

“There should be some provision in the NFSB to allow the state government, in the interest of social justice, to modify, include or exclude certain categories of people in the priority and general household groups in view of the certain local conditions prevailing in the state,” the West Bengal government wrote in a communiqué to the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution.

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