Government to make fresh effort for Opposition support in passing Bill

The Union Cabinet on Thursday deferred a decision on a proposal to promulgate an ordinance on the Food Security Bill. Instead, it opted to form a team of Ministers who will hold consultations with the United Progressive Alliance’s outside supporting parties and the Opposition to elicit their support for a special session of Parliament to pass legislation.

The decision is said to be influenced by the Samajwadi Party’s strong opposition to an ordinance and even to the Bill, as well as the charge that the UPA government did not hold prior political consultations.

Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, who is also the Leader of the Lok Sabha, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath and Minister of State for Food (Independent) K.V. Thomas form the team that will talk to Opposition leaders. Mr. Thomas cancelled his visit to Rome to be available for consultations.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who chaired a Cabinet meeting, said the Food Ministry’s proposal for an ordinance was being deferred for wider consultations. By evening the UPA had reached out to the SP.

“The Samajwadi Party’s opposition to the Bill has been conveyed to the UPA,” Rajya Sabha member Naresh Agarwal told The Hindu. Instead of a special session, he said, the monsoon session could be advanced.

Contradictory positions

The party questioned how the government arrived at the figure of 67 per cent population coverage under the Bill and sought assured minimum support price for farmers.

“On the one hand the government says that we are progressing fast and people are better off; on the other it says that 67 per cent people need cheap grains. Both positions are contradictory. By bringing in an ordinance is the government signalling midterm polls?” Mr. Agarwal asked.

Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and Mr. Thomas sought out journalists after the Cabinet meeting to convey that the government will make one more effort for the support of the Opposition parties in passing the Bill in a special session of Parliament.

“Based on the response of the main Opposition, we will have to take a view. Our intention is to get the Bill passed in a special session of Parliament and we are making one more effort to ask the Opposition parties to cooperate,” Mr. Thomas said adding that the government would like to pass the Bill as early as possible.

Mr. Thomas said the ordinance route was still an option as the proposal was still on the agenda of the Cabinet.

“We want to try one more time in a special session of Parliament and hope the Opposition parties will take a positive view.”

The Food Security Bill was an election promise of the Congress in 2009. The Bill that has been four years in the making proposes to provide cheap rice or wheat or millets to 67 per cent population who will be identified by the State governments.