Press Trust of India
With Congress projecting the food security bill as a game changer, Sonia Gandhi has called a meeting of its Chief Ministers and PCC chiefs on 13 July to discuss the issue.
The meeting called days after the government rushed through an ordinance on the key measure is an indication that the party is keen to pull out all the stops in propagating the food security scheme that will provide right to cheap food grains to 82 crore people.
This will be the first major gathering of Congress leaders after the party’s Chintan Shivir in Jaipur in January this year.
Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) scheme and the Food Security Act are being considered as major moves by the Congress ahead of the 2014 general elections as was the farmers’ loan waiver scheme and MNREGA announced in UPA-I. The loan waiver and MNREGA schemes were credited among other issues for the return of UPA to power in 2009.
Food Minister K V Thomas yesterday gave a detailed briefing over the ambitious food security measure to AICC General Secretary Ajay Maken and party spokespersons. Mr Maken is the chief of the AICC communication department.
Congress-ruled Delhi, where Assembly polls are due later this year, is all set to become the first state in the country to roll out the food security scheme.
Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit had yesterday said that the programme will be launched on 20 August, the birth anniversary of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Party leaders have already hailed the food security measure as a game changer in the Lok Sabha battle.
Reports had it that several states including Congress -ruled Karnataka, BJP-led Chhattigarh, SP-ruled Uttar Pradesh and JD(U)-run Bihar could see early roll out of the programme.
The bill has been the pet project of Congress President Sonia Gandhi who is also UPA Chairperson.
Billed as the world’s largest social welfare programme, the government had last week decided to issue an ordinance to give nation’s two-third population the right to get 5 kgs of foodgrains every month at highly subsidised rates of Rs 1-3 per kg.
Since, the validity of an ordinance expires in six weeks from the commencement of Parliament session, it is set to be brought for a discussion and passage in the upcoming Monsoon Session.
The government has been maintaining that the food security programme, when implemented, will be the biggest in the world with the government spending an estimated Rs 125,000 crore annually on supply of about 62 million tonnes of rice, wheat and coarse cereals to 67 per cent of the population.
As per the ordinance signed by President Pranab Mukherjee, the new food security programme should be rolled out within six months. The rules for implementation of this programme will be framed separately by the Centre and the respective state governments.
BSP, which supports the UPA government from outside, has termed the measure as an “election gimmick”, while another outside ally Samajwadi Party has opposed it, saying it was “anti-farmer”.
Even before the President’s approval came, SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav accused Congress of indulging in vote- bank politics and said its intentions were not good.
“The ordinance has been brought keeping in mind the Lok Sabha polls. The intentions of Congress are not good and my party would look into it and see that interest of farmers is not harmed. Congress is only doing vote politics,” Mr Yadav had said.
Justifying the government taking the ordinance route for the measure even when the Monsoon Session is on the cards, Congress Communication Department in-charge Ajay Maken had, however, said, “This may be a life saver, life changer for many people. So delay even by a single minute or day, God knows how many lives it could cost”.