Opposition’s insistence on vote on amendments causes chaos and procedural wrangling

The Rajya Sabha on Monday approved by voice vote the government’s motion to pass the National Food Security Bill amid chaos and procedural wrangling over Opposition members’ insistence on a vote on their major amendments to the Bill.

The government did not move any official amendment, and none of the 237 amendments moved by the Opposition, mainly the BJP, the CPI(M), the CPI, the AIADMK and the Akali Dal, were carried.

The Bill, which provides 67 per cent eligible population with the legal right to subsidised foodgrains every month, was passed by the Lok Sabha last week. It will become a law after the President ratifies it.

Responding to the concerns expressed by members, Minister of State for Food (Independent) K.V. Thomas said the Central government would work in tandem with the States. All the suggestions made by members would be followed carefully when rules and guidelines were framed, he said. The current allocation of foodgrains to the States was being protected and additional grain would be made available at prices meant for the Above Poverty Line category.

A statutory resolution moved by Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley “disapproving the National Food Security Ordinance (no. 7 of 2013) promulgated by the President on July 5, 2013” was negated. Ninety-two members backed the resolution, while 118 members opposed it. Mr. Jaitley had questioned why the government showed undue haste in bringing the ordinance when the monsoon session of Parliament was to commence in 20 days.

Significantly, the Samajwadi Party, which lends outside support to the UPA, withdrew its amendments to the Bill and so did the Janata Dal (United), which was till recently part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. Both these parties backed the Bill and opposed the amendments moved by the Opposition. The Mizo National Front also withdrew its amendments.

However, before the amendments could be put to vote, there was confusion as the electronic voting machine did not work. For several moments, the House was at a standstill, while the Chair and members discussed procedures: whether all similar amendments should be bunched up for a voice vote or they should be voted upon clause-wise. Chairman Hamid Ansari adjourned the House for 10 minutes to possibly look at the rule book and precedents.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the leader of the House, watched the proceedings in silence.

Earlier, initiating the discussion on the Bill, BJP leader M. Venkiah Naidu blamed the Congress for the poverty in the country. “Indira Gandhi gave the slogan ‘garibi hatao’ in the 1970s. Now, 67 years after independence, you are saying that 67 per cent of the population is food insecure. Who is to blame?”

He said incentives to the agriculture sector had not been given their due place in the Bill. The farm sector was basic to food security, economic well-being, poverty alleviation and national security.

BSP leader Mayawati sought cheaper grain for the weaker sections.

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