Sonia's food bill blocked on Rajiv's birthday

New Delhi, Aug 20 (IANS) Congress chief Sonia Gandhi's pet welfare legislation, the Food Security Bill, that is expected to provide cheap staple food to two-thirds of the nation's population, could not be debated and passed in the Lok Sabha Tuesday, former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi's birth anniversary, as the BJP disrupted the house demanding Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's statement on missing files related to controversial coal block allocations.

The government's hopes to pass the bill in the lower house Aug 20 were belied as the Congress managers failed to gauge the opposition strategy.

However, Sonia Gandhi, while launching the ambitious food scheme in Delhi, described it as "unparalleled in the world". Delhi was the first to roll it out after the government got the president to approve an ordinance in June."We have people who still don't get food and there are children who are malnourished. We decided to bring this scheme so that every poor gets food and no child sleeps without food," Sonia Gandhi said at Talkatora Stadium, not far from parliament.

"The guarantee of food provided by food security scheme on such a large scale is unparalleled in the world," she said in one of her rare public appearances that was beamed live by TV channels.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) did not let the Lok Sabha function over its demand for the prime minister's statement as it was dissatisfied over the statement of Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal made in the Rajya Sabha over the missing files on an issue that is being probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for alleged irregularities.

Though the BJP did not say it was opposed to the bill, party spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said they will not give up the demand for the prime minister's statement on the "missing files".

The "missing files" pertain to decisions taken at various levels in the coal ministry and the government screening committees that decided on the controversial coal block allocations where the opposition alleges large-scale corruption at ministerial levels.

"We want the government to pass our amendments to the food security bill," he said, regarding the BJP's support to the government's flagship legislation.

Congress managers hoped the bill will be passed in the current parliament session, saying there still were three working days left in the week and four in the next.

"We will be trying our level best to get the food bill passed. We are talking to everybody (all political parties)," Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajeev Shukla told reporters.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath said: "We will use all rules to ensure that the house runs."

Food Minister K.V. Thomas said he was confident of getting the legislation passed. "It is a very important bill."

However, with the government seemingly in no mood to succumb to the opposition's pressure tactics and allow a statement by the prime minister on the coal blocks files, the stage is set for a possible confrontation when the house meets Thursday after Raksha Bandhan holiday Wednesday.

While Sonia Gandhi launched the food security scheme at a function in Delhi, party Congress managers said if the opposition deliberately blocks the food bill, they will go directly to the people and explain things to them as to who had opposed this legislation.

Both the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) support the bill.

BSP supremo Mayawati said: "We support the bill as it is for the poor, but we want certain changes for which we will move amendments."

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 foodgrain at prices much below the market rate to around 67 percent of India's 1.2 billion people. The bill is expected to benefit about 800 million people.

The bill, which is part of the Congress manifesto for the 2009 polls, will bring electoral benefits, the party is hoping just as the rural job plan, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, is credited with swinging the party's victory in the 2009 polls.

The bill will cost the government around Rs.124,723 crore, the Congress has said.

The bill was first introduced in parliament in December 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.

Matches

MORE TOP STORIES TODAY

Royal test for Kings

Royal test for Kings

Preview — Clash of philosophies between Australia-centric teams More »

Duminy steals first win for Delhi

Duminy steals first win for Delhi

Furious fifties by Duminy and Dinesh Karthik end a long losing streak for the Daredevils. More »

AB, Parthiv seal Bangalore's second win

AB, Parthiv seal Bangalore's second win

Royal Challengers overcame a stutter to cruise to the small target they were set by Mumbai Indians. More »

...if they are to return to winning ways

...if they are to return to winning ways

England have appointed a new head coach in Peter Moores. More »

‘Felt like helpless minority’

‘Felt like helpless minority’

Former BCCI treasurer Ajay Shirke says emotions got the better of the Srinivasan and he tried to oversimplify things by calling Meiyappan an “enthusia… More »

No way back for Pietersen: ECB

No way back for Pietersen: ECB

Kevin Pietersen's hopes of reviving his international career appeared to end Saturday when ECB managing director Paul Downton said there was 'no way back'… More »

The world record that nearly wasn't

The world record that nearly wasn't

Twenty years ago this week, Brian Lara became Test cricket's highest scorer, but he almost didn't make it. More »

Srinivasan can attend BCCI meeting

Srinivasan can attend BCCI meeting

His status as president of TNCA makes him eligible to attend the Working Committee meeting on Sunday. More »

Maxwell carves his parallel universe

Maxwell carves his parallel universe

Glenn Maxwell seems to project an icy disdain when at the crease. Match situations rarely faze him and the bubble in which he plays excludes everyone … More »

Bangladesh senior players to see shrink

Bangladesh senior players to see shrink

Bangladesh's senior players will have three sessions with a psychological skill development coach later this month More »

BCCI is not anybody’s property — Dalmiya

BCCI is not anybody’s property — Dalmiya

Dalmiya feels that Srinivasan’s ‘power hungry’ attitude isn’t helping matters. More »

Moores gets second stint as coach

Moores gets second stint as coach

In a two-year spell from 2007 to 2009, the 51-year-old Moores led England in seven Test series. More »

Tough for bowlers: Saeed Ajmal

Tough for bowlers: Saeed Ajmal

The 36-year-old believes the T20 format and rule changes in 50-over matches have made a real difference. More »

KP ridicules idea of day-night Tests

KP ridicules idea of day-night Tests

Kevin Pietersen has ridiculed the idea of day-night Test cricket, saying the game would be so different to proper Test cricket that we will need a whole… More »

Rajasthan edge low-scoring thriller

Rajasthan edge low-scoring thriller

The bowlers restricted Hyderabad to 133 for 6 before Rahane and Binny took Rajasthan over the line. More »

Maxwell blitz takes Punjab home

Maxwell blitz takes Punjab home

The Kings XI batsman blasted a 43-ball 95 to help his team pull off a massive chase against Chennai Super Kings. More »

BCCI members want independent probe

BCCI members want independent probe

The board members are realising after the Supreme Court's observations that something has to be done — IS Bindra More »

'BCCI lacks leaders to take on Srini'

'BCCI lacks leaders to take on Srini'

Two former BCCI presidents, Shashank Manohar and Jagmohan Dalmiya, have reacted strongly to the news of the BCCI calling an emergent meeting on Sunday… More »

Delhi look for first points against confident Kolkata

Delhi look for first points against confident Kolkata

Preview — The threat of Sunil Narine looms large again. More »

Bangalore vs Mumbai: A battle of the big-hitters

Bangalore vs Mumbai: A battle of the big-hitters

Preview — Given the firepower in both line-ups, Dubai crowd may see another high-scorer More »

Yuvraj tees off to Sharjah's delight

Yuvraj tees off to Sharjah's delight

Yuvraj Singh was hardly convincing to begin with against Delhi, but a big dose of crowd support and a helping of poor bowling meant he had the opportunity… More »

Stressed Trott stands down again

Stressed Trott stands down again

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) on Friday confirmed that batsman Jonathan Trott is to take another break from all cricket with immediate eff… More »

PCB starts another coach hunt

PCB starts another coach hunt

The PCB has decided to not extend the contracts of head coach Moin Khan, fielding coach Shoaib Mohammad and batting consultant Zaheer Abbas, and has invited… More »

Fiery star Stokes bids to curb his temper

Fiery star Stokes bids to curb his temper

England all-rounder Ben Stokes admits he must keep his anger under control if he is to end his international exile. More »