Food ordinance will not cause financial burden: Congress

New Delhi, July 5 (IANS) The Congress Friday said the ordinance on food security, approved by the union cabinet Wednesday, would not be a financial burden on the economy, and would help battle malnutrition and hunger.

"The food ordinance will help battle malnutrition and hunger in the nation. The food security ordinance will not impact fiscal deficit or affect financial management of the country," Congress general secretary Ajay Maken told reporters at a joint press conference here with Food Minister K.V. Thomas.

The ordinance, said Maken, has been sent to President Pranab Mukherjee, and the government awaits his consent.

He said the ordinance would bring an additional burden of Rs.23,800 crore, which was negligible given the plan size of Rs.5.55 lakh crore.

"As per our calculations, Rs.23,800 crore would be the additional burden on the exchequer after it (food security ordinance) is implemented. Out of the total plan budget of Rs.555,000 crore, an amount of Rs.23,800 crore is negligible and won't have any effect on the exchequer," he said.

Maken also added that the expected cost of Rs.1,24,723 crore in implementing the ordinance would have no adverse impact on the fiscal deficit target of 4.8 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) this financial year.

"There are reports that it is not possible to implement it technically and financially, but all things have been well thought out," he said.

Stating that the Congress was merely implementing its 2009 poll promise, the party general secretary said the legislation should not be linked to the upcoming elections in five states and the 2014 general elections.

Terming it a "dream of top leadership, including Sonia Gandhi, prime minister and Rahul Gandhi", Maken said the ordinance, which is expected to benefit around 800 million people, was the "largest social welfare intervention anywhere in the world".

The government opted for the ordinance route as there was no other option left, said Maken. He attacked the opposition for not passing the bill during the budget session.

"It was promised by the Congress party in its 2009 manifesto. The bill was introduced in December 2011, and we repeatedly appealed to the opposition to discuss the bill and pass it," he noted.

"The entire budget session was washed out. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had sought to evolve a wider consensus on the bill, but that did not emerge. There was no other way... when the opposition does not want to discuss and pass it," he said.

According to Thomas, the bill was first introduced in parliament in December 2011 and remained with the 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.

Maken said the ordinance gives six months to the states to roll out the right to food law and also to identify the beneficiaries.

Saying that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has the required numbers in the Lok Sabha to get the legislation through, he hoped the government would be able to pass the ordinance in parliament.

The food bill, already with parliament, will be taken up for discussion along with the ordinance, Maken said.

Fresh consultations with the opposition parties would be held to evolve consensus on the ordinance when it reaches parliament, the Congress general secretary said.

On the implementation of the ordinance, Food Minister Thomas said the government has already procured 60.2 million tonnes of grain in the past four years and would have no difficulty in managing the 61.2 million tonnes needed for implementing it.

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