New Delhi, Aug 26 (PTI): Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Monday asked all political parties to set aside differences and support the Food Security Bill so that a “big message” could be sent out about India's capabilities.
But the Samajwadi Party, which supports the ruling coalition from outside, demanded that the measure be kept in abeyance till Chief Ministers are consulted as it would put additional burden on states.
Sonia, opening the Congress innings on the debate in the Lok Sabha on the Food Bill, rejected questions over whether the country had the resources to implement the landmark measure.
“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,” Sonia said about her pet agenda.
Sonia, who is also chairperson of the ruling United Progressive Alliance, said the measure is a historic opportunity to provide food security to tens of millions of people in the country which will end the problem of hunger once for all.
She sought to dismiss questions over whether the ambitious scheme could be implemented. “The question is not whether we have enough resources or not and whether it would benefit the farmers or not. We have to arrange resources for it. We have to do it,” she said in the House where Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was present.
Sonia said farmers and agriculture have always remained priority of the UPA.
Agreeing that reforming public distribution system (PDS) was a must for the food law, Sonia noted that there was basic need to remove the leakages to ensure that benefits of the food bill reached the intended beneficiary.
Sonia said the Congress had made a commitment to the nation in the 2009 election manifesto to bring forward such a piece of legislation.
It is one in a series of various rights promised and provided by UPA such as the Right to Information, Right to Education, Right to Work and Right to Forest Produce.
Meanwhile, SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav raised a number of questions over the Bill and said it would badly hurt farmers as there was no guarantee in the provisions that all the produce would be bought by the government.
“It is clearly being brought for elections...Why didn't you bring this bill earlier when poor people were dying because of hunger?...Every election, you bring up a measure. There is nothing for the poor,” he said participating in the debate on the bill.
He questioned whether the government had made any assessment about the number of poor in the country. “There is no mention in the bill... You don't have any figure. You are only going by assumptions,” Mulayam said, adding the bill could be brought only after the BPL census was completed.
He said he would support the bill, which provides for highly subsidised foodgrains to two-third of the country's population, if certain amendments are moved. “This bill is neither for the poor, nor for the farmers.”
Emphasising that the measure would put additional financial burden on states, Mulayam said the Centre should consult Chief Ministers and till then, keep it in abeyance.
The SP chief, whose party is in power in Uttar Pradesh and son Akhilesh is the Chief Minister, accused the Centre of ignoring the states and violating their rights.
“How much will be the additional burden? Who will bear the additional burden? Will the Centre bear it? There is no mention in the bill...,” he said, adding the states were already facing financial problems.