Centre hopes to test impact on ground, bring sceptical Opposition around in converting ordinance into law

The monsoon session of Parliament is likely to be convened after August 15, rather than in the third week of July, government sources have indicated. The reason for the delay is that it will allow the Congress-ruled States to implement food security measures for at least a month before the session starts.

The Congress hopes, thus, to be able to test the food security scheme’s impact on the ground, convince sceptical Opposition parties of its usefulness and secure their cooperation in converting the ordinance into a law.

For instance, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit met Union Food Minister K.V. Thomas on Monday to discuss the roll out of benefits under the proposed law. Ms. Dikshit is expected to launch the programme in Delhi, which goes to the polls on August 20 — the birth anniversary of former Prime Minister, the late Rajiv Gandhi.

Karnataka, a State the Congress recently wrested from the Bharatiya Janata Party, will also launch the food security programme on August 20.

As things stand, the UPA’s food security ordinance will have to be passed within six weeks of the commencement of the monsoon session or, else, lapse.

Thus far, Opposition parties have been critical of the government, their objections ranging from the difficulties of the bill’s implementation to the possibility of its hurting farmers’ interests and the fact that it was not universal.

But the Congress, unfazed by the hostility to the food security bill, is pressing ahead, its eyes firmly focused on the State elections at the end of the year — and 2014 — hoping it will be able to change the narrative. It is with this in mind that Congress president Sonia Gandhi has called a meeting of all 14 party Chief Ministers and all PCC chiefs to the Capital on July 13 to give them a prep talk on the food security bill.

Not only are party spokespersons being despatched to various State capitals to hold press conferences on the subject, but representatives from the Group of Ministers on media — including Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, Union Law Minister Kapil Sibal, Union Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid and Union Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Manish Tewari — too will be making similar trips, starting next week. The ministers will travel in twos and threes. Their mandate, though, government sources said, would not be confined to the food security bill — they will take questions on other subjects as well. In short, the coming weeks will see the launch of a publicity blitz.

Also, with a government to be formed in Jharkhand shortly, the Centre is under no pressure to convene a Parliament session to extend President’s Rule which ends on July 18.

However, the speculation that the government will be able to scrap the winter session by delaying the monsoon session seems unfounded. As government sources pointed out, it would provoke criticism from the opposition of subverting democracy. Technically, of course, it is possible, as there can be as big a gap as six months between two sessions of Parliament.

Of course, the forthcoming monsoon session will probably be the last in which the government can expect to get something concrete done. It will make one more attempt to push through the land acquisition bill.

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