Eyeing 2014, cabinet clears food security ordinance

New Delhi, July 3 (IANS) The union cabinet Wednesday approved an ordinance for the National Food Security Bill, which is expected to be a game-changer for the UPA ahead of the polls to five state assemblies this year-end and the general elections in 2014.

"The cabinet has approved the food security ordinance unanimously," Food Minister K.V. Thomas told reporters after the cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh cleared the ordinance.

The food security bill, one of the big-ticket welfare initiatives of the UPA and a pet project of ruling alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi, aims to provide subsidised food grain to around 67 percent of India's 1.2 billion people. Around 800 million people would thus get the subsidised food grain at an initial cost of around Rs.1.3 lakh crore to the government.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is wary that the bill can bring electoral benefits to the ruling combine.

The United Progressive Alliance chose the ordinance route as national food security bill is held up in parliament.

The BJP did not allow parliament to debate the bill during the budget session that ended May 8, badgering the government on the issue of alleged faulty coal blocks allocations and sought the prime minister's resignation.

But there were division within the UPA as well on the food security bill.

Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, who had earlier expressed reservations related to the huge subsidy involved and the interest of farmers, wanted the bill to be debated in parliament.

Pawar is now on board, said UPA sources.

In a last bid to evolve consensus on the bill, a proposal to consider the ordinance route was deferred by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh June 13 as the government faced opposition from allies and opposition parties like the Samajwadi Party, the Left parties and Pawar.

The ordinance will now go to President Pranab Mukherjee and will be promulgated after his approval.

It will then have to be face parliamentary approval within six weeks of the commencement of the next session.

The government may go in for a special session to pass the ordinance, said informed sources, adding that if the BJP opposes it, then the saffron party would be exposed.

The BJP accused the government of running away from parliament.

"They are not interested in having a debate because many facts or many gaps in the bill will be highlighted by all political parties," BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman told reporters.

The Congress hit back.

"People know who is running away from parliament. Why did they not allow parliament to run and take up the bill in the budget session?" Congress leader Ajay Maken asked while talking to reporters.

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