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Food Security a 'historic opportunity' or mere 'vote security'?

Food Security Bill has seen both -- support across opposition, doubts from allies

Aditi Phadnis  |  New Delhi 

Almost all political parties including the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supported the government’s bid to cover 67% of the population with subsidised food, but several questions were raised about the future availability of food, how this ambitious programme would be financed and the long term effect the bill would have on farming practices in India.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi said it was an “historic opportunity” for all parties to rise above political differences and help in wiping out hunger and malnutrition from the country. Opposition BJP labeled the bill more as “Vote security” than food security but stopped short of opposing it.

Allies of the government including the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) which were said to have reservations about the provisions of the bill did not cite these explicitly. The Janata Dal United (JDU) which had, about two years ago expressed serious reservations about the food security bill because it had differences with the centre on how the poor were enumerated, today did not mention any of those reservations, perhaps acknowledging changed political realities. Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leader from Odisha, B Mahtab flagged availability issues.

The ADMK, which opposed the bill said the Tamil Nadu government was already providing subsidised foodgrain to the poor in the state. All that the bill would do is impose a stiffer financial burden on the state, the ADMK said.

The Samajwadi Party which renders outside support to the UPA has gone public with their reservations against the bill, on many occasions. SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav urged the UPA to summon all state chief ministers and consult them before going ahead and implementing it.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi emphatically appealed to all parties to pass this crucial bill saying, “It is time to send out a big message that India can take responsibility of ensuring food security for all Indians...Our goal is to wipe out hunger and malnutrition all over the country.”

Negating the naysayers who have expressed doubts about whether India had the resources and the capability to implement the bill, Gandhi stressed, “The question is not whether we have resources to implement Food Bill; we have to mobilise resources anyhow.”

Acknowledging that there were leakages within the Public Distribution System she called upon all states to strengthen it. At the same time she said landmark schemes like the ICDS and Mid Day Meal which are all part of this scheme, their flaws need to be rectified.

Gandhi used the occasion to recapitulate the list of Rights that the UPA had in its two terms given to the country – the Right to Information “sometimes to our disadvantage”, MNREGA, the Right to Education and the Forest Rights Act. The Food Securitry bill was another “legal entitlement” to the people.

BJP stalwart Murli Manohar Joshi who initially opened the debate for the Opposition said, "This is a vote security bill not Food Security bill," adding that there are flaws within the bill which need to be rectified. Joshi questioned, "What is adequate food? Is it going to be based on purchasing power, calorific value or nutrition?...”

Gandhi sat through the debate wearing a stoic expression and refused to be provoked.

First Published: Mon, August 26 2013. 19:14 IST