India's political class is not always on the same page even on issues which could earn them brownie points. The wrangle over the National Food Security Bill is a case in point.
The Food Security Bill has been hanging fire for quite some time. While the Congress-led UPA is putting its best foot forward to see the Bill go through, a Bill which could benefit millions of Indians, the Opposition is perhaps rightly saying that the government could have worked to get the Bill passed earlier.
Now, of course, there are suspicions that the Bill is being sought to be pushed through for electoral considerations. The right to food has been one of the major promises that the UPA has held out for the last four years. It has been a pivotal part of the aam aadmi programme of the government.
The sense of empowerment that guaranteed food can give to the poor of India is immense. A well-fed, well-nourished population can also contribute to — in fact is necessary for — economic growth. The proposed law will guarantee five kilogrammes of grain per person every month for two-thirds of the population besides various benefits for children and mothers.
Curious as it is, the criticism of the Food Security Bill comes from diametrically opposite perspectives. While activists like Aruna Roy and political parties like the Left say the current version is inadequate in terms of entitlements and coverage, fiscal conservatives say the annual bill of around Rs 1.36 lakh crore will be a crushing burden on the exchequer.
Yet another criticism is the potential danger of a complete destruction of the agricultural market if the State has the virtual monopoly over procurement and distribution of food. The concerns associated with the notoriously leaky Public Distribution System (PDS) that is expected to implement this remain. There are also concerns about the implications on the bureaucracy that is proposed to be built for its implementation.
There are a lot of concerns that remain unaddressed and these merit serious discussion. Promulgating an ordinance may not be the best way to go about it.
The government has said that 'all options are open', with respect to the way ahead for the law. The government's first preference is to pass the law in Parliament after a proper debate, but that would be possible only if the BJP cooperates in the smooth functioning of Parliament. Otherwise the government will go down the ordinance route.
Therefore, the best way out would be for the government to seek a proper debate and the Opposition to participate in it so that this seminal Bill can go through without such controversy.