Food ordinance: Opposition questions timing, Congress defends move

New Delhi, July 4 (IANS) A day after the Manmohan Singh cabinet approved an ordinance to give effect to the food security bill, politics hotted up over UPA's flagship welfare legislation with opposition parties questioning its timing and the Congress defending the "pro-poor" measure.

The proposed ordinance, which seeks to give legal right to 67 percent of the country's 1.2 billion population to subsidized food grain, comes a few weeks before the monsoon session of parliament, likely to commence early August.

A pet project of United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi, the scheme aims to provide subsidised food grain to around 800 million people at an initial cost of around Rs.1.3 lakh crore to the government. It 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 Communist Party of India-Marxist slammed the government, contending the ordinance route for the food security bill displayed its contempt for parliament.

"The ordinance route shows contempt for parliament and is anti-democratic," the CPI-M politburo said in a statement while pushing for a universal public distribution system.

In Guwahati, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Rajnath Singh questioned the timing of the ordinance while clarifying that his party was not opposed to the food bill but wanted it to be debated in parliament.

"The government could not get the bill passed in over four years of the UPA-II being in power," he said, "Why is it in a hurry now?"

"We want to pass the bill with some amendments," he said.

The BJP did not allow the bill to be debated in the budget session that ended May 8 and instead harped on alleged faulty allocation of coal blocks and demanded Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's resignation.

The Congress on the other hand accused the opposition of playing politics over the issue.

"It is amusing that the ones who are shedding crocodile tears on parliamentary propriety are also the ones who have acquired a PhD in disruptionitis (sic)," Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari told reporters here.

He claimed that even though the opposition was accusing the government of demeaning parliament, it had not respected the institution either and had repeatedly forced adjournments and disrupted proceedings in the past.

"The opposition needs to reflect as to the manner in which they have treated parliament, the scant respect they have displayed for parliamentary institutions, parliamentary traditions, and the functioning of parliament. Don't we all recall the November session of 2010, which was wiped out, don't we recall the monsoon session of last year," he asked.

The Congress also said the ordinance should not be linked to early polls.

"It has nothing to do with elections. The Congress does not think of the polls, it thinks of the people. It was our promise and we have done it," Congress spokesperson Meem Afzal told reporters.

The ordinance will come into force only after President Pranab Mukherjee approves it and it would also have to pass parliamentary scrutiny.

Under the constitutional arrangement, an ordinance has to be ratified by parliament in the next session commencing or within six months.

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