The Lok Sabha on Monday evening started voting on amendments proposed to the UPA government's landmark food security bill.
After much delay, the bill was taken up in Lok Sabha on Monday with Sonia Gandhi asking all parties to set aside differences and ensure its unanimous passage, even as outside ally SP demanded it be put in abeyance till states are consulted.
Main opposition BJP dubbed the measure as "vote security bill" and picked holes as he questioned as to how it would be implemented and who would be the beneficiaries.
Initiating the debate after food minister K V Thomas moved the bill for consideration, Murli Manohar Joshi (BJP) said he was in favour of the legislation that will provide highly subsidised food to two-third of the country's population.
At the same time, he said there were flaws in the bill which should be rectified.
Suggesting that the bill had been brought with an eye on the elections, Joshi said, "In 2009, the then President of India in his Address had talked about Food Security Bill. But you have brought this bill when you are going out..."
Gandhi, who opened her party's innings on the debate, appealed to all political parties to set aside differences and pass the bill unanimously as a "historic occasion" has come.
Declaring that "our goal is to wipe out hunger and malnutrition" in the country, Gandhi said, "It is time to send out big message that India can take responsibility of ensuring food security for all Indians..." Making a strong pitch for smooth passage of the bill, the UPA Chairperson said the government was implementing a promise made in 2009 and sought to dismiss questions over whether the ambitious scheme could be implemented.
"The question is not whether we have enough resources or not and whether it would benefit the farmers or not. We have to arrange resources for it. We have to do it," she said in the House where Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was present.
Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav contended that the bill was being brought with an eye on elections and said it should be kept in abeyance till Chief Ministers are consulted as it would put additional burden on states.
Raising a number of questions over the bill, Yadav said it would badly hurt the farmers as there was no guarantee in the provisions that all the produce would be bought by the government.
"It is clearly being brought for elections...Why didn't you bring this bill earlier when poor people were dying because of hunger? ... Every election, you bring up a measure.
There is nothing for the poor," he said.
He questioned the government whether it had any assessment of the number of poor in the country. "There is no mention in the Bill... You don't have any figure. You are only going by assumptions," Yadav said, adding the bill could be brought only after the BPL census was completed.
He said he would support the bill, which provides for highly subsidised foodgrains to two-third of the country's population, if certain amendments are moved to it. "This bill is neither for the poor, nor for the farmers."
Emphasising that the measure would put additional financial burden on the states, Yadav said the Centre should consult Chief Ministers and till then, keep it in abeyance.
On the other hand, Dara Singh Chauhan of the BSP, another key outside supporter, backed the bill saying it would provide food security to the poor.
JD-U president Sharad Yadav, whose party recently parted ways with BJP-led NDA over Narendra Modi issue, praised Sonia Gandhi for "speaking in the language of the country" while participating in the debate on the bill.
At the same time, he said the measure is a national scheme and no burden should be put on the state governments.
Kalyan Banerjee (TMC) said the bill should not be used as a political gimmick. He expressed apprehension that this would be treated as political gimmick in the coming elections.
Banejree said the Centre will bring such schemes at the time of elections but states would be compelled to bear the burden.
Banerjee said TMC will support the measure if the government deleted Section 38, which makes state governments equally responsible for implementing the scheme.
T R Baalu (DMK) praised provisions in the pro-poor measure enacted under the leadership of Congress President Sonia Gandhi.
He, however, said prevalence of problems like malnutrition are very high in India.
Praful Patel (NCP) said the government should endeavour to give universal coverage to the Food Bill and give foodgrains to all section of poor population and not just limit it to 75 per cent or 50 per cent of the rural and urban population.
He said the Nationalist Congress Party is in favour of the Bill. "We need to work for welfare and prosperity of this country," he said, adding that food security should be provided to people.
Patel said he does not agree to the poverty line of Rs 28.65 per capita daily consumption as given by Planning Commission.
Bhartruhari Mahtab (BJD) observed that the bill should give food security to people on the basis of per-household, instead of per-capita as proposed.
Mahtab said the per-capita approach would create confusion among people and lead to harassment when new members are introduced in the family.