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Government open to changes in food bill

Government open to changes in food bill

New Delhi: Keeping in mind over 260 amendments moved by the opposition parties on the food security bill, the government Monday indicated that it was open to some changes in Congress chief Sonia Gandhi's pet welfare legislation.

"We are discussing the changes to pass the bill. We are looking to see if the amendments are workable," Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath told reporters after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh discussed the issue with senior cabinet colleagues Monday.

"There should be no politics over the food bill," Kamal Nath said, warning the opposition.

Another cabinet minister present during the meeting said around 12 crucial amendments were reviewed by the ministers. "We may consider them if they are logical," he said.

Most of the amendments moved by the opposition relate to making food security universal, including pulses and oil too, besides food grains, and increasing entitlement to food grains from five to seven kg per person per month.

Sources indicated the government may itself move fresh amendments to negate the ones submitted by the opposition.

"The law ministry will have to clear them," Kamal Nath said.

Besides the large number of amendments by the opposition, the meeting also discussed ways to deal with the four TDP members who have been blocking the functioning of the lower house, protesting against the creation of Telangana.

Sources said Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar is expected to announce a decision on the four TDP members Tuesday.

One of the options before the speaker is to name the four TDP members, which will bar them from being in the house for the day.

The Congress hopes to pass the food security bill in the Lok Sabha Aug 20, which also happens to be the 69th birth anniversary of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi is set to launch the scheme in Delhi Tuesday.

The Congress has appealed to the opposition to support the bill and see it enacted.

Informed sources said the prime minister held consultations with senior leaders including Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, Defence Minister A.K. Antony and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath, Human Resources Development Minister M.M. Pallam Raju and Women and Child Development Minister Krishna Tirath, besides Food Minister K.V. Thomas.

Congress spokesperson Raj Babbar appealed to all parties to support the bill.

"We hope the house will debate the bill Tuesday and appeal to all parties to support it," Babbar said.

The food security bill, expected to be a game changer for the ruling Congress ahead of five assembly polls this year-end and the 2014 general elections, aims to provide subsidised food grain at prices much below the market rate to around 67 percent of India's 1.2 billion people; the bill would thus benefit about 800 million people.

The bill, part of the Congress manifesto for the 2009 polls, is expected to bring electoral benefits, just as the rural job plan, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, is credited with the second term that the United Progressive Alliance won in the 2009 polls.

Several Congress ruled states, including poll-bound Delhi, Haryana and Assam, have said they will launch the subsidised foodgrain scheme from Aug 20.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh highlighted the bill in his Independence Day speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort.

The bill could not be passed in the previous budget session of parliament.

If the Lok Sabha passes the bill Tuesday, it could be taken up in the Rajya Sabha Thursday as Wednesday is holiday on occasion of Raksha Bandhan.

The bill will cost the government around Rs.1,24,723 crore and will entail an additional burden of only Rs.23,800 crore, the Congress has said.

The food security bill was first introduced in parliament in Dec 2011. It remained with a standing committee for a year, before it was taken to the Lok Sabha for consideration and passing in the budget session that ended May 8.

It was again sent to the standing committee before being tabled last week.

Food Minister K.V. Thomas said the government was already procuring an average of 60.2 million tonnes of foodgrain in the past four years, and would have no difficulty in managing the 61.2 million tonnes needed under the bill.


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