Congress-ruled States want to launch Food Security Scheme on August 20

The Congress will launch its ambitious food security programme on August 20, Rajiv Gandhi’s birth anniversary, in Delhi and Haryana on the basis of the ordinance that is still in force. But if it is unable to replace the ordinance with an Act of Parliament before the end of the ongoing session, the Congress-ruled States that are planning to implement the scheme will have to revert to the existing Public Distribution System.

For the UPA government, making food security a legal entitlement to 67 per cent of the population is MGNREGA Part Two; it is, therefore, vitally important for it to push the measure through this session, so that its impact can be felt across the country before the 2014 general elections.

The Congress hopes to discuss and pass the Bill next week — August 12, 13 and 14 — before Parliament breaks for five days, starting Independence Day. Most parties are on board, Congress sources said, as they have realised it would be politically unwise to oppose such a law: the only major party that has said it will not vote for the Bill is the AIADMK, which said it is against the Constitution and the federal system. Other parties have raised objections to some provisions and will introduce amendments when the Bill is taken up for debate, along with a statutory resolution moved by Opposition members disapproving of the promulgation of an ordinance.

The Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday after the government rejected apprehensions that it would impinge on the rights of States. Food Minister K.V. Thomas introduced a fresh Bill after withdrawing an earlier one.

The key issue, the Congress sources said, for political parties is: who will get the credit for providing food security, the Centre or the States? If the UPA government, as the initiator of the programme, wants the acclaim, the non-Congress ruled States — especially those who have been running the PDS successfully such as Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh or Odisha — do not want the appreciation they are now receiving shared with the Centre or worse, snatched away.

Meanwhile, the government did succeed on Thursday in pushing through The Companies Bill, 2012, an important piece of legislation passed by the Lok Sabha in December 2012, but nothing much got done through the week. The first four days of the session were dominated by MPs from the Andhra and Rayalseema regions demonstrating inside the House against the formation of a Telangana State, and the BJP holding up proceedings in protest against Defence Minister A.K. Antony’s statement on the killing of five jawans on the Line of Control.

However, now that Mr. Antony made a strong statement on Thursday, unequivocally laying the blame on Pakistan for the jawans’ deaths, the Congress hopes that the BJP will not disrupt the House again on this issue.

TDP protests

The Congress’s only fear over the Food Security Bill is that Telugu Desam Party MPs who stood in the well of the House all week, protesting against Telangana, will continue to do so. The BJP has made it clear that it will not allow the Bill to be passed amidst slogan shouting and disruptions. Indeed, the sight of TDP MPs has created an embarrassing situation for the Congress as it has provoked its own MPs from the Andhra and Rayalseema regions into competitive slogan shouting.

Congress sources told The Hindu that the TDP MPs had given an assurance that they would discontinue their demonstration from Monday but if it continued the chair might be forced to suspend them. Earlier this week, Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari attempted to discipline elders by naming 20 BJP members and two TDP MPs: if the BJP was pulled up for its disorderly protest against Mr. Antony’s statement, the TDP was identified for its unruly anti-Telangana protests.

The BJP staged a walkout, forcing the government to intervene. It said it would seek review of the “naming and shaming” of MPs, worried that the protest could stall business. Incidentally, the TDP MPs have been named in the bulletin every day since the start of the session as part of a drive to instil some discipline in the House.

This is the catch-22 for the government: the BJP will not allow the Bill to be passed amidst disruptions, but any attempt to discipline MPs only invites fresh protests. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath and his floor managers have their work cut out for them.

More In: National | News