Cabinet to take up food security ordinance Thursday

New Delhi, June 12 (IANS) With Congress chief Sonia Gandhi's pet National Food Security Bill stuck in parliament, the government is set to introduce it via an ordinance. Food Minister K.V. Thomas said the ordinance would be considered by the union cabinet Thursday.

"The ordinance is coming up before the cabinet Thursday," Thomas told IANS Wednesday.

The ordinance carries the provisions of the bill, which aims to provide subsidised foodgrain to around 67 percent of India's 1.2 billion people. Around 800 million people would thus get the subsidised grain, at an initial cost of around Rs.1.3 lakh crore.

It is seen as a big-ticket legislation of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, and could prove to be a game changer ahead of the 2014 general elections.

The ordinance will replace the bill which is in parliament, and will be tabled in the monsoon session of parliament in July-August, sources said.

The move comes despite Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar's suggestion last week that the bill be debated in parliament, indicating his reservations on an ordinance.

In the past, Pawar has expressed his reservations on the bill, saying it would entail a huge subsidy burden on the exchequer and harm the interests of farmers.

Congress sources said his concerns have been addressed.

The decision to bring in an ordinance came after Thomas briefed Sonia Gandhi last week, sources said.

Over the past few weeks, the government has weighed the pros and cons of an ordinance, and even considered convening a special session of parliament to pass the bill. BJP leader Sushma Swaraj had opposed a special session and had suggested advancing the monsoon session.

The bill is stuck in parliament as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) did not allow it to be debated in the Lok Sabha during the budget session, which ended May 8.

The BJP wanted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to resign over the faulty allocations of coal blocks, saying a debate could not happen until the prime minister quit.

Since then, a section of the government has been pushing for an ordinance.

According to sources, the government had to discuss the options as the bill has a large number of amendments - 71 - and has to be implemented by the state governments.

Congress sources said opposing the ordinance in parliament may not be easy for the BJP. Opposition to the ordinance is also likely to send out a message that the Congress is keener to legislate on matters of public interest, they said.

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