Cutting across party lines, several members of Parliament backed a universal public distribution system to ensure food security for all citizens “as a right” and vowed to oppose the ‘targeted' food security bill in Parliament.
Among the participants at a Jan Manch organised by the Right to Food Campaign were G. Vivekananda, K. Keshava Rao and Mani Shankar Aiyer (Congress), Prakash Javadekar (BJP), Brinda Karat and P. Rajeev (CPI-M), D. Raja (CPI), Mohan Singh (Samajwadi Party) and Ali Anwar (Janata Dal-United).
“This is a wrong Bill and we will oppose it when it will be introduced in Parliament. We will also oppose it in the Standing Committee,'' announced Ms. Karat, terming the proposed National Food Security Bill as “National Food Insecurity Bill”.
Lashing out against the government for “dividing the poor” in the name of giving subsidised food grains to “identified beneficiaries” on the basis of the ongoing Socio-Economic Caste Census, Ms. Karat also accused the members of the National Advisory Council (NAC) of “compromising” with the provisions of the Bill.
“They did a good job, but then they compromised and gave a chance to the government [to bring such a Bill],'' she said in the presence of NAC members Aruna Roy, Harsh Mander and former member Jean Drez.
Ms. Karat said it was a “joke” that the government — in a federal structure — is asking States to identify only as many poor who could fit into the Centre's numbers of poverty.
Seeing a World Bank conspiracy in the new “flawed” methodology being adopted to identify the poor, she condemned it and said: “The caste census should not in any way be linked to food entitlement as it will undermine the principle of rightful access to food entitlement.''
Ms. Karat and others, including Congress MP Mr. Rao, rejected the provision for cash transfers in lieu of food grains. Skits were organised on the occasion to highlight the pitfalls in cash transfers.
Though Mr. Rao initially supported cash transfers, he changed his stance in the face of a wave of protest from the participants from 10 States and said cash coupons would only apply to subsidies given to inputs such as fertilizers.
While activists rued the absence of any political pressure for a universal food security bill, at least two MPs — Mr. Raja and Mr. Anwar — called for building public pressure outside Parliament to force the government to bring an effective legislation.
Charging the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance with bringing the Bill “with an eye on elections,'' Mr. Javadekar said the Centre was imposing its policies and laws on States that went against the federal structure.
Mr. Raja declared that his party was observing December 15 as a day for “food security” to press their demand for a “genuine, strong legislation which guarantees right to food for all.”
Samajwadi Party general secretary Mohan Singh supported universal PDS and opposed cash transfers but the JD(U) MP from Bihar remained non-committal on cash transfers. as Bihar is one of the States that backs cash transfers.
The draft Bill, which is soon to be taken to the Union Cabinet for approval, provides for coverage of 75 per cent population in rural areas and 50 per cent in urban areas with subsidised grains under law.