Bill represents a shift from welfare-based approach to a rights-based one: Food Minister

Amid the uproar created by the Opposition in the Lok Sabha over allegations of corruption in the UPA government, the National Food Security Bill was taken up for consideration on Monday.

When, after frequent disruptions, the House reassembled at 3 p.m., MP Girija Vyas, who was in the Chair, announced that the House would take up for further consideration the motion moved by the Food Minister K.V. Thomas on May 2.

The Bill was taken up amid uproar and chanting of slogans by the Opposition members, some of whom had trooped into the Well.

Though a brief debate, which lasted for barely 15 minutes, did take place amid the din, the Bharatiya Janata Party, its allies and the Left stormed in the Well, denouncing the UPA government’s “dictatorial ways” in forcing legislation through when both Houses of Parliament were crippled by protests and disruptions over allegations of corruption and scams.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi — who has forcefully backed the ambitious Food Security Bill legislation — was seen encouraging the treasury benches to speak in favour of the legislation.

To the surprise of the Opposition members, including the Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj, the Chair ignored their protests and allowed debate on the Bill.

After Mr. Thomas spelt out the salient features of the Bill, the discussion witnessed Sanjay Nirupam of the Congress, Sanjeev Naik (Nationalist Congress Party), and Bhakta Charan Das (Congress) speaking briefly in support of the legislation.

Amid disruptions, the Food Minister said the UPA government was committed to improving food security in the country by addressing the issue with a comprehensive approach. The Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 22, 2011, after a wide-ranging consultation with various stakeholders.

Mr. Thomas said that the government had — in keeping with the Standing Committee’s recommendations and the view of the stakeholders — decided to move certain amendments to the Bill, seeking to make the framework of the proposed piece of legislation simpler, and allow the States and Union Territories more flexibility in its implementation.

Hailing the Food Security Bill as a “historic initiative” in pursuit of food security, Mr. Thomas said the Bill marked a paradigm shift in approach — from welfare to a rights-based one — by ensuring that people had access to adequate quantities of quality food at affordable prices. The Bill aims to provide 5 kg of foodgrains per month per person to nearly 67 per cent of the population through ration shops.

Dinesh Trivedi of the Trinamool Congress, who laid his speech on the table of the House, expressed disappointment over the absence of any debate on such a crucial legislation. He pointed out that India, the world’s second-fastest growing economy, had one of the highest burdens of child malnutrition globally. However, his brief speech, in which he voiced certain reservations about the Bill in its present shape, was also drowned out in the din.

Members of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), a constituent of NDA, demanded a Supreme-Court-monitored Special Investigation Team probe into the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

As the ruckus continued, the House was adjourned for the day.

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