President Pranab Mukherjee on Friday approved the ambitious National Food Security Ordinance, which aims to provide 5 kg of food grains every month to 67 percent of both rural and urban population of the country at highly subsidized prices.
The Congress-led UPA government could not pass Food Security Bill in the Budget Session after it was adjourned sine die with the Opposition demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Law Minister and Railway Minister over their involvement in corruption scams.
The National Food Security Bill, which is touted to be UPA's most ambitious move ahead of the Lok Sabha elections next year, intends to provide foodgrains to two third (67 percent) of India's population at subsidized prices.
The President has passed the crucial ordinance but it may take about six months before the government to roll out the scheme through the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS).
"Some preparatory work is required before the Ordinance can be implemented, like, the actual identification of the households. The ordinance accordingly provides that State Government shall complete the identification within 180 days (six months) after its commencement. This period may however differ from State to State," said a statement issued by the government.
The ordinance was approved by the President before the Monsoon Session, thus paving the way for the government to present it in parliament without a debate.
Even though Congress said the move should not be linked to the elections next year, Food Minister KV Thomas assured during a press conference that "the biggest thing for any political party is to fulfil the promises it had made in its manifesto. People will take into account that Congress fulfils whatever it promises."
The bill was mentioned as a pet project in the Congress party's 2009 manifesto.
Opposition Party's Reaction to National Food Security Ordinance
The Opposition has criticized the UPA's move for skipping the debate and demeaning the legislature.
"Successive government have repeatedly failed in addressing the problem of malnutrition, it is a shame. Now they are bringing this through ordinance, what were they doing for four years?" Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Brinda Karat told PTI.
"It is not a food safety bill but a Vote Safety Bill for the Congress Party," Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Rajnath Singh said in an interview with CNN IBN.
"Why did they have to pass an ordinance? When Sushmaji (Swaraj) had said we were ready for a special session, what was the urgency to bring the ordinance? The only thing I can infer is after a parliament debate, it will become parliament bill of food security, and now this is only Sonia Gandhi ordinance of food security," BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad told PTI.
Even Congress' key ally Samajwadi Party has raised concerns and termed it as a political step.
"There is a great risk that the law can prove dangerous for farmers. Wheat, rice and sugar are the biggest agricultural produce. If these are provided at low cost by the government, who will buy these from farmers? This is a major issue," Mulayam Singh said in Lucknow.
Under the proposed scheme, the Centre will spend ₹1, 24,747 crore annually on allocation of about 6.12 crore tonnes of food grains.
However, there are states like Chhattisgarh, which already has its Food Security Act 2012 that covers 90 percent of the population in place.