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Under the new food security law, each beneficiary will be entitled to 5kg of rice, wheat and coarse grains at a subsidized price of `3, `2 and `1 per kg, respectively. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint (Ramesh Pathania/Mint)
Under the new food security law, each beneficiary will be entitled to 5kg of rice, wheat and coarse grains at a subsidized price of `3, `2 and `1 per kg, respectively. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
(Ramesh Pathania/Mint)

Food security Bill passed by Rajya Sabha

Legislation moves closer to becoming law after Rajya Sabha passes Bill by voice vote late on Monday

New Delhi: The National Food Security Bill, 2013, moved closer to becoming law after the Rajya Sabha passed it by a voice vote on Monday. It will become a law after the President signs off on it.

The Rajya Sabha voted on the proposed legislation that was passed in the Lok Sabha on 26 August. The food security Bill, which takes forth the thrust of the entitlement-based policy of the Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, is expected to electorally benefit the alliance in the general election next year. Under the new law, each beneficiary will be entitled to 5kg of rice, wheat and coarse grains at a subsidized price of 3, 2 and 1 per kg, respectively. Two thirds of the population, or nearly 800 million people, will be eligible for this entitlement, which will cost the government 1.3 trillion a year.

“We have also decided to merge various schemes like the ICDS (Integrated Child Development Services) and the mid-day meal schemes... we have tried to accommodate all the views," Union food minister K.V. Thomas said in the Upper House.

According to the law, so-called poorest-of-the-poor households under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana programme will retain their entitlements and receive 35kg of wheat and rice per month at subsidized prices. It will not alter the amount of grains that states and Union territories currently receive from the Centre.

In the discussion in the Rajya Sabha on Monday, the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) called the Bill a poll “gimmick" by the ruling Congress. “For four-and-a-half years you never thought of this. Suddenly a few months before elections you are rushing through this Bill... you suddenly bring it before elections," BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu said.

The UPA in its manifesto for the 2009 national election, which it won for a second term, had promised to give a legal framework to the right to food. BJP leader Arun Jaitley said the Bill only repackaged existing schemes such as the public distribution system, the mid-day meal and ICDS and had nothing new in it.

“This Bill should appropriately be called The Repackaging of Existing Food Schemes Bill," he said, also criticizing the hurry with which an ordinance for the Bill was brought. “At best, it could be aimed at reaping political benefits."

The government on 3 July cleared an ordinance to bring the food security Bill. Opposition parties, including the BJP, had criticized the promulgation of the ordinance.

Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar said there was a greater need to give rights to Panchayats or village councils . Unless panchayats and municipalities are given “last mile delivery", the food Bill will not meet its desired results, he said.

“However gargantuan the task of procuring, storing, transporting, delivering, if at the last mile there is a bureaucrat responsible and not an elected representative, there is no hope at all," he said.

Mayawati, chief of Uttar Pradesh-based Bahujan Samaj Party, supported the legislation but demanded that along with rice, wheat and coarse cereals, the government should supply salt, edible oil and pulses at half the price proposed in the Bill, especially for people from so-called backward communities.

The ruling Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh also supported the Bill even though it said that states should have been consulted on it. “This is a vote Bill not a food Bill," party leader Naresh Agrawal said, adding the poor would not benefit from it.

Left parties were critical about the timing of the law and demanded that the entire population of the country be covered by the Bill.

“If the government is sincere about respecting the dignity of people, it should extend the programme to the entire population because there are malnourished people among the remaining 33% of the population who would not be covered," said Sitaram Yechury, politburo member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

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