President approves food ordinance, opposition cries foul

New Delhi, July 5 (IANS) President Pranab Mukherjee Friday promulgated the national food security ordinance, which gives around 67 percent of India's 1.2 billion people 5 kg grain per month at highly subsidized rates.

The union cabinet Wednesday approved the ordinance, which gives six months to the states to roll out the right to food law and also to identify the beneficiaries.

The measure, the largest social welfare intervention in the world, is expected to be a game-changer for the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government coming ahead of the polls to five state assemblies this year-end, and the general elections of 2014.

The Congress said the decision should not be linked to the polls.

The food bill, a pet project of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, is part of its 2009 poll promise, the party said while clarifying that it would bring no financial burden to the exchequer and would not upset plans to rein in fiscal deficit at 4.8 percent of the GDP.

The opposition, however, kept on its attack and charged the government, which is in minority in parliament and is surviving on outside support, of skipping a debate by passing the ordinance and demeaning parliament.

"Successive government have repeatedly failed in addressing the problem of malnutrition, it is a shame. Now they are bringing this through ordinance, what were they doing for four years?" Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Brinda Karat told reporters.

Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said it is a political step.

"Why did they have to pass an ordinance? When Sushmaji (Swaraj) had said we were ready for a special session, what was the urgency to bring the ordinance? The only thing I can infer is after a parliament debate, it will become parliament bill of food security, and now this is only Sonia Gandhi ordinance of food security," he said.

Even Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, whose party supports the UPA from outside, opposed the food security ordinance, saying it was "anti-farmer".

"There is a great risk that the law can prove dangerous for farmers. Wheat, rice and sugar are the biggest agricultural produce. If these are provided at low cost by the government, who will buy these from farmers? This is a major issue," Mulayam Singh said in Lucknow.

The ordinance will help the farmers, countered the Congress, adding that there was no other option as the opposition did not allow the food bill to be debated in the budget session.

"The bill was introduced in December 2011, and we repeatedly appealed to the opposition to discuss the bill and pass it," Congress general secretary Ajay Maken told reporters.

"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.

But BJP's Yashwant Sinha blamed the Congress for the disruptions. "If the parliament was adjourned, it was because of government," he said.

Food Minister K.V. Thomas said the government will have no difficulty in managing 61.2 million tonnes grain needed for implementing the ordinance. Issues like storage space and digitisation of distribution system were being improved, he said.

The ordinance has to be ratified by parliament in the coming monsoon session, likely to start early August.

"We will be able to manage the numbers in both houses," Congress general secretary Ajay Maken asserted.

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