PM discussing food bill with cabinet colleagues

New Delhi, Aug 19 (IANS) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is engaged in discussions with senior cabinet colleagues to ensure the passage of the food security bill, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi's pet welfare legislation, in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, sources said.

The birthday of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi falls on Aug 20.

The Congress has appealed to the opposition to support the bill and see it enacted.

Informed sources said the prime minister was holding consultations with senior leaders including Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, Defence Minister A.K. Antony and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath on how to pass the legislation in the lower house Tuesday.

Sonia Gandhi is set to launch the scheme in Delhi Tuesday.

Congress spokesperson Raj Babbar appealed to all parties to support the bill while expressing hope that the lower house would debate it Tuesday.

The Congress is also concerned over the four Telugu Desam Party (TDP) members who have been disrupting the house, protesting against the creation of Telangana.

Sources said the prime minister will also discuss ways to deal with the situation created by the continuous protests in the house by TDP members.

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

The bill, part of the Congress manifesto for the 2009 polls, is expected to bring electoral benefits, just as the rural job plan, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, is credited with the second term that the United Progressive Alliance won in the 2009 polls.

Several Congress ruled states, including poll-bound Delhi, Haryana and Assam, have said they will launch the subsidised foodgrain scheme from Aug 20, the 69th birth anniversary of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh highlighted the bill in his Independence Day speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort.

The bill could not be passed in the previous budget session of parliament.

If the Lok Sabha passes the bill Tuesday, it could be taken up in the Rajya Sabha Thursday as Wednesday is holiday on occasion of Raksha Bandhan.

The bill will cost the government around Rs.1,24,723 crore and will entail an additional burden of only Rs.23,800 crore, the Congress has said.

The food security bill was first introduced in parliament in Dec 2011. It remained with a 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.

It was again sent to the standing committee before being tabled last week.

Food Minister K.V. Thomas said the government was already procuring an average of 60.2 million tonnes of foodgrain in the past four years, and would have no difficulty in managing the 61.2 million tonnes needed under the bill.

--Indo-Asian New Service

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