After much delay and uncertainty, the landmark Food Security Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha on Monday which seeks to provide cheap foodgrains to 82 crore people in the country, ushering in the biggest programme in the world to fight hunger.
The ambitious bill was adopted by the House through a voice vote after a combined discussion on the measure and a statutory resolution seeking to disapprove the ordinance promulgated on July 5. Over 300 amendments moved by the opposition were rejected.
The legislation was passed after a day-long debate during which Congress President Sonia Gandhi, during her maiden speech in the 15th Lok Sabha, said, "Our goal for the foreseeable future must be to wipe out hunger and malnutrition from our country."
Significantly, Gandhi, who is the main force behind the bill, could not participate in voting as she fell ill during voting on amendments and had to leave the House at around 8.15 pm. She was later admitted in the AIIMS.
Earlier, Gandhi sought to allay concerns over the measure. "This legislation is only a beginning. As we move forward, we will be open to constructive suggestions; we will learn from experience," Gandhi said.
She said the approach of the UPA has brought in "an empowerment revolution in our country --something we are proud to have facilitated."
Just before voting on the bill, Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj said BJP is supporting the legislation despite it being "half-baked and weak". She added, "we are waiting for the day when we come to power and we will be able to improve the law."
Replying to the day long debate, Minister of State for Food K V Thomas dismissed the charge that states were not consulted while drafting the bill. He insisted that the states were consulted four times.
He also dismissed concerns that new measure would impinge upon the rights of the states and said the legislation will become success one when Centre and states work together.
"We will protect the federal system of the country. We don't want to weaken it," he said.
Key outside supporter Samajwadi Party demanded the bill be put in abeyance till states are consulted. Main opposition BJP dubbed the measure as "vote security bill" and picked holes as he questioned as to how it would be implemented and who would be the beneficiaries?"
The passage of the Food Security Bill in Parliament will pave the way to give nation's two-third population the right to 5 kg of foodgrain every month at highly subsidised rates of Rs 1-3 a kg.
After the bill gets Rajya Sabha's nod, India will join the select league of countries that guarantee majority of its population foodgrains. At Rs 1,30,000 crore government support, the food security programme will be the largest in the world. It would require 62 million tonnes of foodgrains.
The bill will guarantee 5 kg of rice, wheat and coarse cereals per month per person at a fixed price of Rs 3, 2, 1, respectively.
However, about 2.43 crore poorest of the poor families covered under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana scheme under PDS (Public Distribution System) would get legal entitlement to 35 kg of foodgrains per family per month.
Thomas rejected suggestion for making food security net universal.
On contentions that such measures were better in some states like Chhattisgarh and Tamil Nadu, the minister ruled replication of those at the Centre level.
"Tamil Nadu, Kerala are role models. Every state is a role model. But we cannot accept that. In Chhattisgarh a particular system may have worked. But it may not be acceptable to Tamil Nadu and other states," the minister said.
Earlier participating in the debate, UPA's outside supporter Samajwadi Party demanded that the bill be kept in abeyance till Chief Ministers are consulted as it would put additional burden on states.
SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav raised a number of questions over the bill in Lok Sabha and said it would badly hurt farmers as there was no guarantee in the provisions that all the produce would be bought by the government.
"It is clearly being brought for elections...Why didn't you bring this bill earlier when poor people were dying because of hunger?...Every election, you bring up a measure.
There is nothing for the poor," he said participating in the debate on the bill.
Main opposition BJP earlier dubbed the measure as "vote security bill" and picked holes as he questioned as to how it would be implemented and who would be the beneficiaries.