The Lok Sabha on Monday night passed the ambitious National Food Security Bill, 2013 that seeks to provide highly subsidised food grains to nearly 70 per cent of the population of the country.
Dubbed as a “game-changer,” the flagship measure of the UPA government will legally entitle 67 per cent of the population (including 75 per cent rural and 50 per cent urban) to get subsidised grains under the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS). A beneficiary will be entitled to 5 kg of rice, wheat or coarse cereals at Rs. 3, Rs. 2 and Re. 1 per kg a month, respectively. The beneficiaries will be identified by the States based on parameters prescribed by the Union government.
On a day when the historic legislation was being voted, Congress president Sonia Gandhi — who was the force behind the Bill and dubbed it an “empowerment revolution” — could not see the passage of the Bill as she took ill in the House late in the evening. She was rushed to the AIIMS after complaining of high fever. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Leader of the House Sushil Kumar Shinde sat through the proceedings in the House.
The government had promulgated an Ordinance to this effect in July which had to be replaced by the Bill in the current monsoon session of Parliament to make it a law.
As the Lok Sabha sat till late in the night to deliberate on a number of amendments that were moved by several members after a six-hour long debate on the Bill, there were some anxious moments for the treasury benches when an amendment to Clause 8 of the Bill, moved by the Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj, created confusion and was believed to have gone through as the Speaker Meira Kumar announced the result of the division.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath suggested a revote on it to which Ms. Swaraj agreed, saving the government from embarrassment. Her amendment was negated as the result of the division showed 252 Ayes and 141 Nays with the total number being at 393.
The lengthy process of going through a volley of amendments to the Bill and subsequent division, demanded by many members, took more than three hours as the House sat till late on Monday night to complete the tedious legislative process.
In a speech in the Lok Sabha, Ms. Gandhi described the measure as a “big message” about India’s capability to take responsibility for the food security of all its citizens.
She said the Bill was a fulfilment of her party’s promise to “wipe out hunger and malnutrition.”