Nobel laureate Amartya Sen is upset that disruption of Parliament has held up passage of important legislation including the UPA’s flagship National Food Security Bill.

Nobel laureate Amartya Sen is upset that disruption of Parliament has held up passage of important legislation including the UPA’s flagship National Food Security Bill.

He feels that if the Bill is not passed — even if without amendments — several hundred children will go hungry or die from under-nutrition. The Bill has been criticised as “limited” and “targeted” by activists such as Jean Dreze and Kavita Srivastava, who on Monday shared the dais with Prof. Sen to advocate its passage albeit with changes.

In the past, Prof. Sen too favoured the universal Public Distribution System but on Monday he said, “It is a moderate Bill and whether it goes far enough is another question but the case for passing it is strong.”

Even as Prof. Sen addressed a press conference here on the pitfalls of not getting the food security law through, there was a weak attempt in the Lok Sabha to debate the Bill through the opposition din demanding the resignation of certain ministers. The Treasury benches were nearly empty. It is learnt that in a new strategy the Opposition parties that want to move amendments will seek to get the Bill referred to a Select Committee.

Prof. Sen was hard on the Opposition for not allowing Parliament to function. “You can have a different view, but not having a debate goes against the tradition of democracy. Allow arguments, rather than kill arguments, and not allowing Parliament to meet is killing arguments.” The media should “take an intelligent interest” in what was happening. “The media should, for instance, put out the cost of the Bill not being discussed and passed.”

He was, however, quick to add that this did not mean the government had no questions to answer on corruption or the killing of Sarabjit Singh but the Opposition demand could not take precedence over important legislation such as the Food Bill. “Killing debate raises the suspicion that the Opposition arguments are weak.”

What if the government were to take the ordinance route to legislate the food Bill? Prof. Sen said, “It will be sad if it goes through the ordinance route because Parliament did not do its job.”

The Bill provides for mandatory provision of subsidised rice (at Rs. 3 a kg) or wheat (Rs. 2) or coarse cereals (Re. 1) to 67 per cent of the population at 5 kg per beneficiary a month. The beneficiaries will be identified by the State government as per the parameters set by the Centre.

It is being criticised for being targeted, for not specifying a time frame for rolling out the measure, for cutbacks in individual entitlements and for allowing entry of contractors and commercial interests in supply of food through the Integrated Child Development Services.