Sonia Gandhi may speak in parliament on food bill

New Delhi, Aug 13 (IANS) Congress chief and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi may speak on her pet welfare legislation, the Food Security Bill, when it comes up for discussion in the Lok Sabha Wednesday, party sources Tuesday said.

However, this would not be her first speech in the house as she took part in a special discussion on 60 years of parliament May 13, 2012. The last she spoke on a government bill was on the National Rural Employment Guarantee Bill Aug 18, 2005, said parliament sources.

The 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, numbering around 800 million.

The bill, part of 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, brought in 2009.

Getting the Food Security Bill passed in this session is a top priority for the UPA.

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

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may also highlight the bill in his Independence Day speech to the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort here.

The Congress hopes the bill, which could not be taken up in the house Tuesday, is passed on Wednesday before parliament breaks for a long weekend starting Aug 15.

"We hope the Food Security Bill is passed in the house tomorrow (Wednesday)," Congress spokesperson Sandeep Dikshit told reporters.

But that would be subject to the house remaining in order as the BJP does not want to debate the bill amidst a din, as has been the case in the house for the past two days.

The bill could not be taken up in the house Tuesday as the four TDP MPs continued to disrupt proceedings over the creation of Telangana.

As Aug 15 (Thursday) is a holiday , parliament would also not meet Friday but in lieu of this, would sit on Aug 24, parliamentary sources said. Parliament, in any case, does not sit on weekends (Aug 17-18).

Next week's holiday Aug 20 on the occasion of Raksha Bandhan has also been shifted to Aug 21, the sources said.

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

If the Lok Sabha passes the bill Wednesday, it can be taken up in the Rajya Sabha Monday.

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 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 table 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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