In disruptions,demands,sign of Oppn unease with food Bill

The Bill was listed as the first legislative item on the agenda of the Lok Sabha.

Written by Express News Service | New Delhi | Published: August 20, 2013 10:23 pm

The National Food Security Bill could not be taken up by Lok Sabha on Tuesday amid a series of protests over sundry issues that reflected the unease among opposition parties over the electoral dividend that the legislation could end up providing the Congress.

The Bill was listed as the first legislative item on the agenda of the Lok Sabha. Congress president Sonia Gandhi formally launched the scheme in Delhi on Rajiv Gandhi’s birth anniversary.

Left MPs took the lead in disrupting proceedings soon after Speaker Meira Kumar completed obituary references. They entered the well carrying placards demanding a check on onion prices. The Left parties had not protested on this issue on Monday.

At a BJP parliamentary party meeting held before the House assembled,Purnia MP Uday Singh reportedly said that the party should compel the government to discuss the economic situation and the fiscal sustainability of the legally binding food subsidy.

Singh was also learnt to have asked if there was any disconnect between the suggestions made by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and the party in Parliament. Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj was learnt to have said that amendments moved by party members were in line with Modi’s suggestions to the Prime Minister,and that they also sought to address issues raised by the BJD and AIADMK.

An indication of the BJP’s reluctance to allow the Bill to be rushed through came in the context of speculation that marshals could be deployed to evict agitating TDP members in order to facilitate a discussion on the Bill.

“The party will stand by the (TDP) MPs against their naming and eviction,” a source quoted Swaraj as having said at the parliamentary party meeting.

Once the House assembled,BJP members stood at their seats,carrying placards demanding an explanation from the Prime Minister on the missing coal block allocations files.

SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav met with his MPs and decided that the party would move amendments to the Bill and demand that they be accepted. “We have moved seven amendments. If the government accepts,it is good. Else we will oppose the Bill,” SP chief whip in Lok Sabha Shailendra Kumar told The Indian Express.

Members of the RJD reportedly have reservations about the Bill,but party chief Lalu Prasad was learnt to have overruled them.

TDP MPs protesting against the move to create Telangana were joined in the well by AIADMK members carrying placards demanding the government boycott the Commonwealth heads of government meet in Sri Lanka in November.

“Opposition to the Bill will be detrimental. In public perception,it will be a throwback to Indira Gandhi’s 1971 garibi hatao campaign. The Congress will twist any opposition to the Bill to claim ‘Congress kehti hai bhukhmari hatao,yeh (opposition) chahte hain Congress harao’. No party can afford it,” confided an MP from one of the parties extending outside support to the government.

Consequently,non-UPA parties seem to have devised alternative routes to thwart or delay the Bill,including seeking even more generous entitlements for beneficiaries.

This is best reflected in the amendments moved by the SP,which had earlier described the Bill as anti-farmer. Changes sought by the party’s Kaushambi MP Shailendra Kumar include expanding the food guarantee to cover 80 per cent (from 75 per cent in the Bill) of the population in rural areas and 75 per cent (from 50 per cent in the Bill) in urban areas.

Kumar’s amendment also demands raising the entitlement limit per family from 25 kg per month to 50 kg per month,and adding pulses under the food guarantee.

Even Swaraj’s amendments demand doing away with the 75 per cent rural and 50 per cent urban coverage ceiling,and suggests that coverage be fixed “on the recommendations of state government”. Her Gujarat colleague Harin Pathak is learnt to have gone a step ahead and moved an amendment demanding that the food guarantee be extended to “every resident of India”,and include pulses as well. (Incidentally,the country meets part of its domestic pulses demand from imports.)

One of the BJP’s amendments too demands enhancing the guarantee to 50 kg per family per month from the proposed 25 kg. Left amendments seek coverage for every Indian except those paying taxes.

Amendments moved by the BJD seek guarantee for pulses and edible oil. The AIADMK has demanded that “the entire” population be guaranteed food. DMK member TR Baalu has demanded universal PDS in states where such a provision already exists.

While Sonia Gandhi left the Lok Sabha after the second adjournment Tuesday,the Congress seemed likely to attempt to pilot the Bill on Thursday. But members from the opposition parties said they expected to witness new developments to disrupt Parliament that day.

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