Zee Media Bureau
New Delhi: In a major development, Parliament on Monday passed UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi`s dream project, the National Food Security Bill, which aims to provide cheap food grain to country’s two-thirds population.
The landmark legislation was passed by the Rajya Sabha by a voice vote after an almost 10-hour-long debate. The legislation was passed by the Lok Sabha last week (August 26).
With the Rajya Sabha giving its nod to the bill, its passage has now given the Congress-led ruling alliance a powerful electoral issue in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
The ambitious bill, seen as a game-changer by the government and expected to benefit 82 crore people in the country, cleared the Parliamentary process after much delay and uncertainty. It now needs just one more step - Presidential assent - to become a historic law.
The proposed legislation was approved after a combined discussion on the measure and a statutory resolution seeking to disapprove the ordinance promulgated on July 5.
All the amendments moved by the opposition to the bill, passed by Lok Sabha last week, were rejected. Some amendments, like the one moved by Samajwadi Party member Naresh Agrawal, were withdrawn while some members including BJP`s Venkaiah Naidu and Prakash Javadekar did not press some of their amendments.
The bill was passed after a day-long debate during which the Opposition attacked the government, saying the measure was just repackaging of some existing schemes and a "gimmick" with an eye on elections.
The bill will guarantee 5 kg of rice, wheat and coarse cereals per month per person at Rs 3, 2, 1, respectively.
India will now join a select league of nations that guarantee majority of its population cheap foodgrains. At Rs 1,30,000 crore government support, the food security programme will be the largest in the world. It would require 62 million tonnes of foodgrains.
Wrapping up the debate, Food Minister KV Thomas said he was "not saying it is 100 percent perfect (scheme)" but it was the "first step" towards universalisation of Public Distribution System.
He allayed apprehensions that the measure would hurt federalism as he said the Centre will bear the major part of the financial burden. "The Centre and the state will have to work hand-in-hand," he said.
"It protects whatever existing schemes states have," Thomas said when asked by Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley as to what would be the fate of such programmes already being implemented in some states.
The Food Minister said all constructive suggestions made by members would be carefully considered.
A record number of 237 amendments were tabled by the Bharatiya Janata Party and other opposition parties but were either rejected or not pursued.
The government today faced some embarrassing moments in the Rajya Sabha as the statutory resolution moved by Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley disapproving the ordinance on National Food Security Bill evoked loud "ayes" before being rejected through vote.
During the debate, Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley said the bill was mere "repackaging" of existing schemes in different states, and criticised the "hurry" to push through the legislation.
The bill, a part of the Congress election manifesto of 2009, is seen both as a welfare and a populist move to swing votes for a beleaguered Congress in upcoming elections to state assemblies and Parliament.
With Agency inputs