Describing the Food Security Bill as ‘historic’,Congress leader Rahul Gandhi today asked partymen to take its message to grassroots and prepare the people to fight for their legal entitlement.
“We have given them a right. You prepare them to fight,” was the message of Gandhi’s brief speech at the opening of a meeting of PCC chiefs and CLP leaders of all states on the food security issue even as partymen clamoured against Opposition parties appropriating central government schemes in many states.
The meeting,which was also addressed by Union Ministers Jairam Ramesh and K V Thomas,saw demands for naming the food security law after late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and giving a greater say to Congressmen in its implementation in opposition-ruled states.
Gandhi said Congress,after fulfilling committments like Right to Education,Right to Information,Right to Employment (MNREGA),Right to Identity (Aadhar),has brought Right to Food.
“This is for the first time in the history of the country that any government is legislating to give a right to food to citizens…you take the message in blocks and villages,” Gandhi told the participants.
As concerns were raised over anomalies in the PDS system,Gandhi expressed confidence that since the bill gives legal entitlemnents to people,it will build pressure on the existing institutions and bottom-up changes will happen.
“His idea is that the legal right will fix the loopholes in the PDS. Giving it a legal status will put pressures on the system and bottom-up changes will happen,” said a participant.
“We must first understand the whole thing and then party cadres should help people understand it. Government of India is bringng this bill which will revolutianize the life of people at those strata where people have struggled,” Jammu and Kashmir PCC chief Saifuddin Soz quoted Rahul Gandhi as having told the meeting.
He also said the bill was not suddenly brought as an Ordinance. “We had made the promise in 2009. We brought the Ordinance after opposition parties did not allow its passage in Parliament,” Gandhi is learnt to have said.
Flagging the issue of lacuance in the PDS system in his stae,Punjab CLP leader Sunil Jakhar said there are 12,000 affidavits in which people have stated that they did not get kerosene and foodgrains from the PDS shops.
He also said there are apprehensions among farmers that the food security scheme will eventually lead to a freeze on subsidy and the Maximum Support Price to farmers will be abandoned as the government will need to procure huge amount of foodgrains.
Rahul,Thomas and Ramesh sought to allay the apprehensions with Gandhi noting that party workers should tell farmers there that it was during UPA rule that the MSP was doubled and the government has no plan to cut down subsidy on foodgrains.
Thomas said the government will make a separate announcement on the issue seeking to allay the apprehensions of farmers.
Concerns were also expressed by some PCC chiefs and CLP leaders that there will be huge anomalies in the preparation of beneficiary list and implementation of the scheme in opposition-ruled states.
They also apprehended that Congress workers will have no representation in the appointments in most of the commissions and committtees in opposition-ruled states and they will be done on political lines and ensure Congress has no say in the implementation of the scheme.
Responding to the apprehensions,Thomas said there are provisions for State Food Commission,and district-level grievance redressal system but made it clear that in a federal structure,it is the states which have to implement the scheme.
Punjab PCC chief Pratap Singh Bajwan said in the meeting that opposition parties implement the Centre’s schemes with their Chief Ministers and ministers putting out their photos and they claim all the credit for them.
Bajwa said some mechanism should be worked out so that opposition parties also have a role in the implementation of the scheme.
“MPs should be involved like it has been done in the PMGSY where the final list of beneificiaries cannot be finalised unless it has the approval of the concerned MPS,” he said.
Telling the participants that states have been given time till November,the Union Ministers told the participants to publicise the scheme and that it was the central government’s scheme as a number of state leaders said Congress was not getting the credit for its public welfare schemes in states ruled by opposition parties.
Madhya Pradesh CLP leader Ajay Singh said Gandhi asked them to disseminate information among the masses about the Bill’s significance. Singh said it was wrong to link the Bill with elections.
Thomas,sources said,told the gathering that a misconception existed among people that Public Distribution System would cease to exist after the Bill was implemented and asked them to dispel the notion.