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The Rajya Sabha on Monday passed the food security Bill after a seven-hour discussion and technical glitches in the voting system, which caused considerable delay.
The Bill had been cleared by the Lok Sabha last week. To cover 75 per cent of the rural and 50 per cent of the urban population by providing them with subsidised foodgrains, the Bill now needs presidential assent to translate into law.
Though Opposition and parties like the Trinamool Congress found faults with the Bill on several counts, including seeing it as an assault on federalism, it was passed in favour of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
In his reply to the debate, Food Minister K V Thomas assured members all suggestions of political parties would be incorporated while drawing up the amendments. As for concerns that state specific food schemes should not be overridden by the Centre’s food scheme, Thomas said the federal system would be protected. “The prime minister has taken a bold decision of protecting existing quantity and price in states.”
As for the nutritional aspect, as providing universal coverage was not possible, Thomas said special care would be taken of pregnant women and lactating mothers.
The government, he said, had incorporated suggestions such as “hot cooked food” for certain sections rather than the earlier “ready-made food” provision. The food minister acknowledged that the Food Corporation of India had its shortcomings. “It is a white elephant” but steps were being taken to remedy it.
Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati said her party supported the government’s bid to provide food for all, but wanted the amendments moved by parties to be taken note of and included by the government.
Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley, who spoke on the “misuse” of the ordinance powers through which the government had brought in the food security ordinance despite the fact that Parliament was to be convened in less than a month, said that that was only “political intent” as the Congress-led UPA wanted some states to unfurl the scheme at the earliest.
Criticising the government, he said the Bill should be renamed “repackaging of existing schemes” like the public distribution system, mid-day meal and ICDS.
He cited the food scheme of the BJP-ruled Chhattisgarh government which had even been praised by the Supreme Court and urged the government to increase the entitlements from 25 kg per family to 35 kg per family.
BJP senior leader Venkiah Naidu lambasted the UPA for touting it as “lifechanger”.