Sending out a “big message” to the world about India’s capability to take the responsibility of food security for all its citizens, Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Monday said the National Food Security Bill was her party’s promise to “wipe out hunger and malnutrition.”

Making her maiden speech in the 15th Lok Sabha on the project she had been pushing hard, Ms. Gandhi said it was a historic opportunity to provide food security to tens of millions that would end hunger.

This law “is only the beginning [and] as we move forward we will be more open to constructive suggestions and we will learn from experience. It is good that in the past few years, people from various sections could avail themselves of several benefits.”

Yet to benefit

Expressing concern that there were people who were still unable to get the fruits of welfare schemes, Ms. Gandhi said it was “our responsibility” towards those who still suffered from malnutrition.

Taking on the detractors who raised doubts whether the country had resources to implement the landmark food security measure, the United Progressive Alliance chairperson said to a thunderous applause from the treasury benches: “The question is not whether we have enough resources or not and whether it would benefit the farmers or not. We have to arrange resources for it. We have to do it.”

Ms. Gandhi appealed to all parties to set aside ideological differences for passing the Bill — dubbed a game-changer — unanimously on this “historic occasion.”

A packed Lok Sabha seemed in awe as she spelled out the legislation the government had enacted in the past nine years. “Our UPA government in 2005 brought in the Right to Information law that ushered in unprecedented transparency in public life, sometimes to our own disadvantage. A little after that, the Right to Work — the Mahatma Gandhi NREGA, became a reality. This provided employment to one in every four households in the past seven years and has led to increase in rural wages. In 2006, we brought the path-breaking Forest Rights Act, which has benefited lakhs of tribals and other families who have traditionally relied on forests for their livelihood. In 2008, the Right to Education became a law. This has already led to a sharp increase in enrolment in schools.”

The Food Security Bill was the fifth in a series of what might be called a rights-based approach “which provides legal entitlement to the people, puts pressure on the executive to be more responsive and accountable and also puts in place a credible mechanism to redress grievances. This approach, I believe, will bring in an empowerment revolution in our country something we are proud to have facilitated.”

On farmers and agriculture, Ms. Gandhi said: “We have given the topmost priority to their issues and will continue to do so. We also have to regain the momentum of the economic growth.”

Admitting that reforming the public distribution system was a must for the food law, Ms. Gandhi noted that there was a basic need to plug leakages to ensure that benefits of the Bill reached the intended beneficiary. Access to PDS shops “is also not similar everywhere. There is need to reform the PDS scheme. We have to ensure that its benefits reach the right people in [the] right manner. This is one of the main focuses in the Food Security Bill.”

The Congress president said: “We have to agree that there are some shortcomings in the PDS and the Integrated Child Development Services Scheme but with our committed and sincere efforts we can rectify such flaws as we know that these schemes are unparalleled in the world. Our combined responsibility is to rectify any shortcoming in these schemes. The States also should take the responsibility for it.”

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