New Delhi: The Congress-led UPA government faces a litmus test in getting party chief Sonia Gandhi’s flagship welfare legislation, the Food Security Bill, passed in Parliament on Tuesday, the birth anniversary of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Though the government is confident that its flagship scheme will be passed in the Lok Sabha today, it is also concerned over the large number of amendments (over 260) moved by the opposition parties.
Amid speculation that the Food Security Bill will be pushed in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, the government on Monday said that it would accept all “workable” amendments. In view of large number of amendments from the Opposition, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath said the government is willing to accept those amendments which are “workable”.
“We are looking at this situation that if it is an amendment which is workable, the government will move that amendment. It will come in as an official amendment,” Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath told reporters outside Parliament House when asked about 260-odd amendments.
Keen to get the bill passed, the government has agreed to some amendments to win over key allies Samajwadi Party (SP) and Telugu Desam Party.
Union Food Minister KV Thomas reportedly spoke to SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and TDP, which has been constantly disrupting the House on the issue.
The government wants to pass the bill in the Lok Sabha today, the 69th birth anniversary of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.
To mark the occasion, Sonia Gandhi will launch the scheme in Delhi while Congress-ruled Haryana and Assam are also expected to start the right to food plan beginning today.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh late night reviewed the amendments Monday with his cabinet colleagues.
Most of the amendments moved by the opposition relate to making food security universal, including pulses and oil too, besides foodgrain, and increasing the entitlement from five to seven kg per person per month.
Among the parties which have moved the amendments are the BJP, the CPI-M, the CPI, the JD-U, the BJD, the Akali Dal, the DMK, the AIADMK and the TMC.
The government, which has already moved around 71 amendments, hinted it could move a few more to negate the ones moved by the opposition.
The Food Security Bill, expected to be a game-changer for the ruling Congress ahead of five assembly polls this year-end and the 2014 general elections, aims to provide subsidised foodgrain at prices much below the market rate to around 67 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people; the bill would thus benefit about 800 million people.
The bill, part of the Congress manifesto for the 2009 polls, is expected to bring electoral benefits, just as the rural job plan, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, is credited with the second term that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) won in the 2009 polls.
If the Lok Sabha passes the bill, it could be taken up in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday as Wednesday is a holiday on account of Raksha Bandhan.
The bill will cost the government around Rs.1,24,723 crore and will entail an additional burden of only Rs.23,800 crore, the Congress has said.
The Food Security Bill was first introduced in Parliament in Dec 2011. It remained with a standing committee for a year, before it was taken to the Lok Sabha for consideration and passing in the budget session that ended May 8.