Setting aside all opposition, the Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved a proposal to promulgate an ordinance on the National Food Security Bill that seeks to give legal rights to 67 per cent of the population over subsidised grains every month. The beneficiaries will be identified by the States, which will also implement the programme under the Targeted Public Distribution Scheme.

“The ordinance on the Food Security Bill has been approved unanimously by the Cabinet and will be forwarded to the President for his assent,’’ Minister of State for Food (Independent) K.V. Thomas told journalists after an hour-long meeting of the Cabinet. Once the President signed the ordinance, rules would be framed and the programme would be rolled out.

The move, coming a few weeks ahead of the monsoon session of Parliament, drew flak from major Opposition parties. The BJP dubbed it as an “election gimmick’’ and the CPI(M) described it as “an unnecessary step that shows contempt for Parliament.’’ The UPA’s outside supporting party, the Samajwadi Party, termed the measure “undemocratic.’’

The ordinance will have to be ratified within six weeks of the commencement of the next session of Parliament. But even after the ordinance, the Bill—aWhat long with the 81 amendments moved by the Food Ministry—will have to be passed by both Houses of Parliament. There is speculation about Parliament being convened in August first week.

Last month, the Cabinet deferred a decision on taking the ordinance route on the Bill, saying the government will take steps to evolve a consensus with the Opposition and supporting parries. Apparently, no such initiative was taken and the government on Wednesday decided to go ahead with promulgating an ordinance.

Informed sources said Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, who was earlier said to be against the ordinance route, made the point at the Cabinet meeting that production of grains would have to be enhanced further for which irrigation would have to be given a fillip. His Ministry has sought huge funds to invigorate the farm sector to fulfil the commitments under the food security programme.

The ordinance will guarantee 5 kg of rice or wheat or millets a beneficiary a month at a discounted rate of Rs. 3, Rs. 2 and Re. 1 respectively. However, 2.43 crore Antyodaya Anna Yojna (poorest of the poor) beneficiaries will continue to get their legal entitlement of 35 kg a household a month.

The scheme will take at least six months to be rolled across the country as the States need to be prepared. There is no clarity on the parameters of identification of beneficiaries which will be set by the Centre.

Be that as it may, with this the Congress can demonstrate its commitment to fulfil its election manifesto promise. The sources justify the ordinance route as five States are going to the polls by this year-end, of which BJP-ruled States Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh had implemented the subsidised grains scheme, the former through the Chhattisgarh Food Security Bill.

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