|Sonia Gandhi holds on to Kumari Selja, social justice and empowerment minister, after stepping out of Parliament on Monday night. (PTI)
New Delhi, Aug. 26: The Lok Sabha tonight passed the National Food Security Bill that seeks to provide affordable foodgrain to the poor and a ray of hope for the battered government to retain power in the next election.
The decisive ballast was provided by Sonia Gandhi who staked national pride on the passage of the welfare measure aimed at fighting hunger.
Although Sonia could not take part in the final vote because she took ill late in the evening, she bluntly dismissed apprehensions swirling around fiscal prudence.
“Some people ask whether we have the resources or not. That’s not the question. We will have to manage resources for this. There is an opportunity before Parliament today to correct a mistake that has caused immense damage to our human resources,” Sonia said.
The House rejected over 150 amendments tabled by the Opposition parties. The suggestions turned down included reduction of price from Rs 3 to Re 1 for a kilo of rice and the removal of Section 38 that empowers the Centre to give directives to states.
Many parties, including the Trinamul Congress, wanted deletion of Section 38 but the amendments were rejected by over 100 votes. The government succeeded in passing all its amendments, some of which addressed the states’ concerns such as protection of their grain allocations.
The Opposition supported the passage of the bill, though Sushma Swaraj declared that the BJP would further fortify the welfare measure when it comes to power. (See chart on Page 8)
The bill will now go to the Rajya Sabha for consideration where the government may face a tougher task, though parties like the Janata Dal (United) and the BSP could come to its rescue.
Sonia, whose perseverance helped the government overcome reservations from within, made a forceful plea for unanimous support to the bill.
Making her first formal speech in this Lok Sabha, she asked the House to send a clear message to the world that India has taken responsibility of ensuring food security of its people.
Critics have slammed her for burdening the national exchequer for electoral exigencies and stretching the states’ finances. The government today said the subsidy burden on account of the new measure would be Rs 130,000 crore, up from the Rs 124,000 crore mentioned earlier.
Sonia said no compromises could be made on the question of feeding the poor, ignoring perceived doubts among senior UPA ministers, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and agriculture minister Sharad Pawar.
She described the bill as “the fifth in a series of what might be called our rights-based approach”, referring to initiatives ranging from the right to information act to the rural job guarantee scheme.
“This approach provides legal entitlement to people, puts pressure on the executive to be more responsive and accountable…. This approach, I believe, is bringing about an empowerment revolution in our country, something we are proud to have facilitated,” Sonia said.
Although most parties supported the concept of food security, the Opposition criticised the government for using the welfare measure as an electoral ploy. The entire Lok Sabha insisted that the provisions were not adequate enough, underlining the importance of populism in the political discourse.