The cabinet on Sunday unanimously cleared the flagship food security bill without any changes, overriding objections raised by agriculture minister Sharad Pawar that had forced it to be held back last Tuesday.
The bill is now likely to be tabled in Parliament in the ongoing winter session.
Unlike Tuesday’s meet — marked by differences not just between allies but also Congress ministers — the cabinet promptly approved the bill on Sunday amid strong backing from finance minister Pranab Mukherjee.
Pawar had raised several red flags on the bill as it stands, citing mainly fiscal concerns.
Food and public distribution minister KV Thomas and Mukherjee had over the past two days reviewed the financial implications of pulling off the legislation, which is estimated to cost R95,000 crore — about R27,663 crore more from what the government currently spends on food subsidy.
The bill, which stems from a poll pledge made by the ruling Congress, seeks to guarantee affordable food to 63.5% of the country’s population, covering 75% of rural households and 50% of urban dwellers.
India is among 29 countries with the highest levels of hunger, stunted children and poorly fed women, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute’s Global Hunger Index.
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, upset over the logjam over the bill, had pushed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Thomas to iron out last-mile hurdles.
Making food a legal entitlement, as provided for in the food security bill, would require the government to make massive investments in the farm sector, to the tune of R3.50 lakh crore, according to a government estimate.
Pawar had cited grave “financial risks” of giving cheap foodgrains to the 63.5% of the people through a food-guaranteeing law, which he sees as an overly populist step that could knock the government’s finances.