Food bill: Congress issues whip to MPs, Sonia Gandhi to speak in Parliament

The Congress on Tuesday issued whip to party MPs asking them to be present in the Lok Sabha during debate on Centre’s ambitious Food Security Bill on Wednesday.

Zee Media Bureau/Ritesh K Sivastava

New Delhi: The Congress on Tuesday issued whip to party MPs asking them to be present in the Lok Sabha during debate on Centre’s ambitious Food Security Bill on Wednesday.

Congress chief and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi is also likely to speak on the issue when the Food Bill comes up for debate in the Lok Sabha tomorrow, sources said.

The Food Bill, which aims to provide cheap food grains to nearly 67% of the country’s population, was introduced in Parliament by Union Food Minister KV Thomas on August 7 to replace the an ordinance passed by the Cabinet in July 2013.

Agriculture Minister and Congress`s ally NCP chief Sharad Pawar supported the bill but is reportedly against some of the clauses. However, he said that his party is open to discussion on the bill and will support it if the government agrees to amend the bill.

The Congress hopes the bill, which could not be taken up in the house today, is approved tomorrow before Parliament breaks for a long weekend starting Aug 15.

"We hope the food security bill is passed in the house on Wednesday," Congress spokesperson Sandeep Dikshit told reporters.

But that would be subject to the house remaining in order as the BJP does not want to debate the bill amidst a din, as has been the case in the house for the past two days.

The bill could not be taken up in the house Tuesday as the four TDP MPs continued to disrupt proceedings over the creation of Telangana.

As Aug 15 (Thursday) is holiday for Independence Day, Parliament would also not meet on Friday but in lieu of this, would sit on Aug 24, parliamentary sources said. Parliament, in any case, does not sit on weekends (Aug 17-18).
Next week`s holiday Aug 20 on the occasion of Raksha Bandhan has also been shifted to Aug 21, the sources said.

Getting the Food Security Bill passed in this session is a top priority for the UPA. The bill could not be passed in the previous budget session of Parliament.

If the Lok Sabha passes the bill tomorrow, it can be taken up in the Rajya Sabha Monday.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may also highlight the bill in his Independence Day speech to the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort here.

The bill, expected to be a game changer for the ruling Congress ahead of five assembly polls this year-end and the 2014 general elections, aims to provide subsidized food grain at prices much below the market rate to around 67 percent of India`s 1.2 billion people numbering around 800 million.

The bill will cost the government around Rs.1,24,723 crore and will entail an additional burden of only Rs.23,800 crore, the Congress has said.
The bill, part of Congress manifesto for the 2009 polls, is expected to bring electoral benefits just as the rural job plan, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, brought in 2009.

Several Congress ruled states, including poll-bound Delhi, Haryana and Assam have said they will launch the the subsidized foodgrain scheme from Aug 20, the birth anniversary of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

The bill was first introduced in parliament in Dec 2011. It remained with a standing committee for a year, before it was taken to the Lok Sabha for consideration and passing in the budget session that ended May 8. It was again sent to the standing committee before being table last week

Food Minister K.V. Thomas said the government was already procuring an average of 60.2 million tonnes of foodgrain in the past four years and would have no difficulty in managing the 61.2 million tonnes needed under the bill.

With IANS inputs

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