Even as Congress president Sonia Gandhi described the UPA government’s Food Security Bill as an integral part of “an empowerment revolution,” a key ally, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav demanded in the Lok Sabha that the measure be not passed without consulting all Chief Ministers.

“Why didn’t you bring this Bill earlier when poor people were dying of hunger? Is this for elections or for the hungry?” asked Mr. Yadav participating in the debate on the National Food Security Bill, 2013.

Arguing that the Bill was being brought with an eye on general elections, he said it should be kept in abeyance until all Chief Ministers were consulted as it would pass on additional financial burden on the States.

Mr. Yadav said the Bill would badly hurt farmers as there was no guarantee in the provisions that all produce would be bought by the government.

He questioned the government whether it had any assessment of the number of the poor. “It finds no mention in the Bill. You don’t have any figure. You are only going by assumptions.”

The main Opposition BJP fielded senior leader Murli Manohar Joshi, who said the UPA government’s flagship measure suffered from a number of flaws.

“This is a vote security bill not Food Security Bill,” Dr. Joshi said. Though favouring the Bill, he said a number of rectifications were needed to correct its flaws. Taking on the government on varying figures of those living Below the Poverty Line (BPL) as different committees had given different figures, Dr. Joshi wondered how to quantify “adequate food.”

“What is adequate food? Is it going to be based on purchasing power, calorific value or nutrition?” The BJP leader also raised doubts over funding of the scheme. The Bill should have the objective of providing universal food security.

About 67 per cent of the country’s population was dependent on agriculture but small farmers were committing suicide. In the last 15 years, more than three lakh farmers had killed themselves, the BJP leader said.

Bahujan Samaj Party leader Dara Singh Chauhan, whose party is extending outside support to the UPA government, backed the Bill, saying it would provide food security to the poor. He demanded 100 per cent coverage for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Janata Dal (United) president Sharad Yadav lauded Ms. Gandhi for “speaking in the language of the country” — Hindi — while participating in the debate.

However, the JD(U) chief said since the measure was a national scheme of the Centre, it should not result in passing the burden on the States. The government did not have sufficient godowns for storage of foodgrains and huge funds would be needed to construct new facilities. He also wanted universal coverage for all.

Expressing fears that the Bill would be dubbed a “political gimmick” in view of the coming elections, Kalyan Banerjee (TMC) said the States would be compelled to bear the financial burden.

A. Sampath (CPI-M) demanded that sugar, pulses and edible oil be included in the Bill, along with rice, wheat and coarse cereals.

“Since elections are knocking at the door, the Minister is in a hurry to pass the Bill,” he said, adding leasing out FCI godowns to private parties would hamper effective distribution.

AIADMK’s stand

Expressing reservations over the Bill, AIADMK leader M. Thambidurai said his party could not support the Bill in its present form as it would impose an additional burden of Rs. 3,000 crore on Tamil Nadu and called for promoting universal PDS.

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