Such a hurry

The food security bill calls for due debate,not special measures to ram it through

Written by The Indian Express | Published: June 4, 2013 2:26 am

The food security bill calls for due debate,not special measures to ram it through

In its eagerness to get the food security bill passed,the UPA is said to be considering unconventional methods. The bill is regarded as especially important to the Congress president,on par with the UPA’s other large initiatives,like the MGNREGA and the RTE. The party hopes to take it to the people next year as a big achievement of its term. Having failed to enact the bill for years,however,it is entirely uncalled for,if not a reckless short-circuiting of due politics and procedure,that it should now think of resorting to extraordinary measures to hurry it through.

An ordinance is meant to be issued by the president when Parliament is not in session and immediate action is needed. The Supreme Court has made it clear that it is an “emergency power”,given to the executive to meet an “emergent situation”. The food security bill,which has remained pending for several years,does not qualify for a crisis response. There is no reason why it can’t wait its turn,till the approaching monsoon session. The special session,said to be also contemplated by the UPA,is also problematic. There have been special sittings of Parliament,to mark 50 years of independence,for instance,and 60 years of Parliament,but these were convened when the House was in session. To call a whole new session to ram through a pet initiative would signal that the UPA thinks institutional decorum doesn’t apply to its own pressing agendas. It would send out yet another dispiriting signal: that it requires a special session to be called,ahead of the scheduled session,for the House to function and pass a law — after which parties would presumably feel free to go back to disrupting Parliament.

There are serious disagreements on the food security bill — on the very point of subsidising cereals on this scale when data suggests that the real need is for better nutrition,on the distortions it will create in the agricultural market,on the folly of relying on a notoriously corrupt public distribution system. There are also important arguments on the fine print,on the rough exclusion criteria used to determine beneficiaries. Of course,the emotional framing of the issue means that no political party wants to be seen to be opposing the bill. Once it is taken up,the UPA may be confident that it will be passed. But as the government strategises on the way to push it through at the earliest,it must know that all the options before it are unwise.

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