New food security bill introduced in Lok Sabha

New Delhi, Aug 7 (IANS) The government Wednesday introduced in the Lok Sabha the food security bill 2013 to replace the relevant ordinance issued last month.

Food Minister K.V. Thomas first withdrew the food security bill that had been introduced in the house in 2011 and then introduced the new measure, based on the ordinance which had been tabled for approval in the house Monday.

"The bill does not impinge on the rights of states. There is nothing against the federal structure. The bill aims at giving food as a matter of right," Thomas told the house.

Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj said border security was as important as food security and repeated her demand that Defence Minister A.K. Antony clarify his statement on the killing of five soldiers in Jammu and Kashmir Tuesday.

AIADMK member A. Thambidurai opposed the bill saying it was against the right of states. He also wanted the states to be consulted before the house took up the bill.

"The Tamil Nadu government is distributing grains. It will be affected by the bill," said Thambidurai.

Former United Progressive Alliance (UPA) ally and DMK member T.R. Baalu said his party would seek amendments in the bill.

"Off-take of states should not be affected," he said.

Amid the din in the house, the speaker adjourned the Lok Sabha till Thursday.

The relevant bill could not be passed in the previous budget session of parliament and getting the new food security bill passed is a top priority for the UPA.

The Business Advisory Committee of the lower house, which met Monday, had agreed to allocate six hours to the debate on the food security bill. The debate is expected either Thursday or next Monday.

The bill, expected to be a game-changer for the ruling Congress ahead of five assembly polls this year-end and the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, aims to provide subsidised grains at prices much below the market rate to around 800 million people -- about 67 percent of India's 1.2 billion people.

The bill, costing Rs.124,723 crore to the government initially, will bring an additional burden of Rs.23,800 crore, the Congress has said.

The bill, part of Congress manifesto in 2009 polls, is expected to bring electoral benefits just as the rural job plan, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, brought in 2009.

Several Congress-ruled states, including poll-bound Delhi, Haryana and Assam, have said they would launch the subsidised grains scheme from Aug 20, the birth anniversary of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

The bill was first introduced in parliament in December 2011. It remained with the standing committee for a year before it was introduced in the Lok Sabha for consideration and passing in the budget session that ended May 8.

Thomas said the government was already procuring average 60.2 million tonnes of grains in the past four years and would have no difficulty in managing the 61.2 million tonnes needed under the measure.