The National Food Security Bill (NFSB) has been derailed yet again in the past few days due to continuous disruptions of Parliament. The Congress Party made an ill-advised attempt to pass the bill on August 20, Rajiv Gandhi’s birth anniversary. Sure enough, the opposition parties went out of their way to scuttle this move and fell over each other to disrupt the Lok Sabha that day. This is only the latest episode in a long saga of virtually continuous disruption of Parliament from the Budget session onwards. The pretexts used by opposition parties include the coal scam, the Chinese incursion in Ladakh, the plight of an Indian prisoner in Pakistan, a case of child rape, the creation of Telangana, and the price of onions, to name a few. The government has not helped matters by giving opposition parties so many good reasons to be agitated. But paralysing Parliament for months on end does nothing to resolve these problems. The NFSB is only one casualty of this stalemate. Other important social legislation are also languishing. For example, a bill that could give enormous relief from excruciating pain to millions of cancer patients, by removing outdated restrictions on the use of morphine, has sunk without a trace.
Some parties have lost all credibility in this tussle. The Bharatiya Janata Party, for one, speaks in different voices on the Food Bill. Even as some BJP leaders complain the draft does not go far enough, others argue that it is unaffordable. For all its claims of supporting the bill, it is increasingly apparent that the BJP would like to see it scuttled. This obstructive attitude seems to be rooted in a fear that the law, once passed, will bring votes to the Congress. This fear is unfounded. The bill is an opportunity for any party to get popular support by making a good job of implementing it. In any case, since it will take at least a year for the provisions to get off the ground, the NFSB is unlikely to have much impact on the 2014 election. Sadly, the Congress itself has similar delusions about quick political dividends. And its attitude to the subject, too, is contradictory. On the one hand, the party insists food security is a non-partisan issue. On the other, it is trying to use the bill as an electoral card. As tensions intensify, it is increasingly difficult to be optimistic about a rational and effective roll-out of this crucial legislation. MPs need to take a more enlightened view of the bill, instead of focusing on very speculative electoral dividends. Many parties have tabled useful amendments that require informed discussion. A constructive resolution of the current impasse could make a big difference to millions of people who live in conditions of intolerable insecurity.