The UPA government’s proposed food ordinance, slated to be taken up by the Cabinet on Thursday, is likely to face some resistance from within, with the Congress’s second largest ally NCP still preferring a debate in Parliament.
Sources in the NCP said their leader and agriculture minister Sharad Pawar was likely to oppose the move at the Cabinet meeting, if he chooses to attend it. Pawar favours a “comprehensive parliamentary debate”.
However, Congress managers have stepped up efforts to get Pawar on board. They sounded confident of persuading the NCP chief. “Taking the ordinance route was a collective decision. It will be ultimately discussed in Parliament. I am confident Sharad Pawar will support it. His support is crucial,” food minister KV Thomas said.
An ordinance is a provision to enact laws outside a Parliament session under Article 123 and has the same force and effect as an Act of Parliament. It stays valid for six months within which Parliament has to ratify it for it to become a law.
The government will still need to negotiate tough challenges when the ordinance comes up before Parliament for ratification. The main opposition BJP, the Left parties, the Trinamool Congress and the AIADMK led by Tamil Nadu CM Jayalalitha are opposed to the UPA’s food law.
The CPI (M) wants access to subsidised grain for all as opposed to the ordinance, which restricts it to 67% of the population.
The UPA’s food law doesn’t lay down a clear underlying principle for inclusion or exclusion criteria, it has argued.
There could be serious resistance from the BJP on the norms to be adopted for selecting beneficiaries, 75% in rural areas and 50% in the countryside. “A food security bill is important. The BJP wants such a law with certain amendments. But ordinances on food security and land acquisition will be undemocratic,” BJP president Rajnath Singh said.
The BJP is likely to cite its variant of a food law – the Chhattisgarh Food Security Act – to demand a clear exclusion criterion, rather than an exclusion limit of 33%. Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh wrote to the PM on this in February.
The single biggest opposition could be the proposed monthly ration quota of 25 kg grain for an average household, as opposed to 35 kg now, although Thomas has said current levels of allocations would be maintained.
If the opposition manages to get its changes incorporated, it will claim credit for improving upon what has essentially been a showpiece welfare legislation of the Congress.
The Right to Food campaign and the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW) have said they oppose the UPA’s food security bill.