Food bill test in House today, rollout in 3 states

The UPA government faces a key test in Parliament on Tuesday in passing its flagship food security bill, the same day the “game-changing” scheme is launched in three Congress-ruled states — Delhi, Haryana and Uttarakhand.

Top ministers, along with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on Monday held a strategy meet on how to juggle major amendments, or alterations, proposed by the Opposition. Separately, food minister KV Thomas met Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, as the government signaled its willingness to accept “workable” changes to the bill, a hint of flexibility from parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath ahead of the crucial vote.

The Congress is keen on getting Parliament’s approval for the legislation on Tuesday, a symbolic occasion since it is the birth anniversary of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

The government, at the PM-led meet, reviewed a range of amendments moved by various parties, including the demand that the food security law be kept universal, or open for all. The government’s view is that the country’s food output would not be able to match such a wider coverage.

The law, a poll promise of the Congress, seeks to give subsidized food handouts to 67% of Indians, or about 800 million people.

Thomas, along with finance minister P Chidambaram, briefed the ministers on the implications of various demands, such as increasing the food quota to 7 kg from 5 kg per person. It also weighed demands to remove provisions for cash transfers, food coupons and cash allowances in case of ‘force majeure’ conditions, like natural disasters, a key Opposition demand.

After long delays, the government had last month enacted the food security law through an ordinance, a provision to make temporary laws, which must now be backed by Parliament with a simple majority, or the support of at least half of those voting, along with one additional vote.

In Uttarakhand, chief minister Vijay Bahuguna will launch the programme at Dehra Dun’s Town Hall. Nearly 62% of the state’s people will benefit from the scheme. Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda will roll out the food law in Panipat and 12.6 million people, or 51% of the state’s population, will be covered.

Rajasthan’s plan to launch the scheme, however, has been delayed. It will start enrolling beneficiaries from August 20 and the government will receive public comments till August 26, an official said. Legal issues will then be looked into.

The law will cover 69% of the state’s rural and 53% of its urban population in 26 categories — including BPL families, single women, elderly pensioners and the disabled.


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