The bill was tabled in parliament earlier this year but disruptions meant it could not be debated. It seeks to make access to food a legal right, with 5kg of grain distributed each month to 800m of the country’s poor at just a few rupees a kilo.
Claims of steamrollering
Lawmakers across the political spectrum have criticised the move by the ruling Congress party to push the bill through as an ordinance, rather than putting it to a vote in parliament. The government says it had made a number of efforts to make sure the bill was discussed.
"The bill would enshrine the fact that 67% of India is poor. It means Congress and BJP, who ruled India for 67 years, have made 67% population poor. What bright legacy do they claim then?" questioned Naresh Aggarwal.
By this, Aggarwal was alluding to the fact that the proposed food law seeks to provide subsidised rations to 67% population.
Rajesh Dixit, a party spokesman, added: “The bill is anti-farmer, it seems a design to finish off the poor rather than finishing off poverty. It will badly hit agriculture. We will oppose the bill in parliament.”
Meanwhile, Narendra Modi, Gujarat’s tubthumping chief minister with his eyes clearly set on a future premiership, tweeted: “The Congress government in Delhi is rubbing salt in the wounds of people battling with price hikes.
“For the last ten years in Gujarat, poor are getting wheat at Rs2 per kg and rice at Rs3 per kg through [the] public distribution system...Is this not food security?"
He added that the National Food Security Bill was a vote-buying gimmick by a government its eyes on next year’s elections.
In response to the stoppages to the bill, and widespread criticism of it, the government is now considering calling a special session of parliament to pass it into law, according to finance minister P. Chindambaram.
He said the ruling coalition would soon speak to opposition members to ascertain "whether they will cooperate in passing the bill in a special session of parliament".
"If that support is forthcoming, the bill will be passed in a special session of parliament based upon the response of the main opposition parties," he told reporters after attending a cabinet meeting.
"We would like to pass the bill as early as possible," he added.
Congress has argued that the Bill is required after years of existing food subsidy programmes being marked by rampant corruption and inefficiency to the point that little of the grain actually reaches its intended recipients. It has long since stopped being a secret that much of it sold on the black market or left to rot inside warehouses.