Congress chief Sonia Gandhi has asked Union food minister KV Thomas to iron out last-mile hurdles in the way of the flagship food bill before it is brought to the Cabinet again on Sunday.
A lack of consensus in the Cabinet — which must clear the bill before it can be placed in Parliament — led to it being stalled last Tuesday.
The Congress chief, who had overseen the bill’s drafting because it was a poll pledge of the ruling party, is upset over the logjam.
On Thursday, Thomas consulted key Cabinet members all over again. “We will introduce the bill in this session. States and other stakeholders will naturally want their viewpoints to be heard. That’s ok. We are working to address all issues,” Thomas told HT.
The bill had to be held back after agriculture minister Sharad Pawar raised several red flags on the bill, citing fiscal concerns.
Pawar’s last-minute opposition to key provisions of the bill caught the government unawares, even though he had publicly criticised it earlier.
He essentially cited the grave “financial risks” of giving cheap grain to the 65% of Indians through a food-guaranteeing law, which he sees as an overly populist step that could knock the government’s finances, the sources said.
His arguments stem from the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council’s feasibility study, which said cheap grain should be given only to those extremely vulnerable or poor.
India is among 29 nations with the highest levels of hunger, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute’s Global Hunger Index.
Though Pawar had criticised the bill, it was put up before the Cabinet only after eight broad meetings of the inter-ministerial group of ministers on the food bill so far.
Twice, the food ministry had circulated the bill in the Cabinet, including to the agriculture ministry.