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Union cabinet clears national food bill

RG - A Helping Hand (Company Secretary)     19 December 2011

RG - A Helping Hand
Company Secretary 
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NEW DELHI: The Union Cabinet on Sunday cleared the Food Security Bill that seeks to provide subsidised food to 62.5% of the country's total population, and also held out the assurance that the Lokpal Bill will be passed during the remaining part of the winter session.

While the draft Lokpal Bill will be formally cleared by the Cabinet at another meeting to be held on Monday, the National Food Security Bill, which is Congress president Sonia Gandhi's pet project, will be introduced in Parliament in the next couple of days. The food bill was vetted by the National Advisory Council headed by Sonia Gandhi.

The twin decisions were interpreted as stemming from the government's anxiety to blunt Team Anna's anti-graft campaign and also to restore the party's "pro-poor'' credentials ahead of the crucial electoral battles in Uttar Pradesh and four other states.

The food bill, that seeks to provide rice at 3, wheat at 2 and coarse grains at 1 per kg to over half of India's 1.2 billion population, had hit a roadblock over issues of high cost and availability of grains.

The reservations, aired by agriculture minister Sharad Pawar and new and renewable energy minister Farooq Abdullah at the last Cabinet meeting held on December 13, were sought to allay by the food minister KV Thomas on Sunday.

Thomas told the Cabinet that the additional subsidy burden to the nation will only be 21,000 crore, as all the existing subsidised food distribution schemes will be subsumed under it.

The bill will now be sent to the Standing Committee, where it will be examined threadbare. The misgivings on the availability of foodgrain in a lean year and the impetus to subsidy bill because of the commitment guaranteed under the legislation are expected to be taken up by the parliamentary panel.

A large part of the deliberations at Sunday's Cabinet meeting, it is learnt, was devoted to the draft Lokpal bill. With Anna Hazare threatening to go a fast again from December 27, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee felt it imperative to inform his Cabinet colleagues about the status of the legislation.

The content of the bill envisaged by the Cabinet is still expected to come short of Team Anna's expectations, and a fresh round of skirmish between the two sides cannot be ruled out.

The government, he told the Cabinet, was committed to pass the bill during the remaining part of the winter session itself.

The legislation, he said, could be passed on December 22 and 23 by extending the session by a day. The winter session, as things stand, draws to a close on December 22. "If the need arises, we could hold a special two-day session on December 27-28,'' he is learnt to have said.

The bill, according to the finance minister, will cover the prime minister, albeit with certain safeguards -a stand which has the endorsement of the BJP-led NDA and the Left.

The Cabinet, however, was unwilling to concede Team Anna's demand of bringing the entire lower bureaucracy under the proposed ombudsman. At best, it could have an "oversight'' role over the category of government employees, who number around 57 lakh.

The fate of CBI still remains a bone of contention. While the Cabinet felt that the agency's director could be appointed by a collegium comprising the prime minister, leader of The Opposition and the Lokpal, the agency could not be allowed to close cases by itself.

The Lokpal could play a role in this aspect, the Cabinet felt. The Cabinet also agreed to reserved 50% of the seats in the Lokpal for the SCs, STs, OBCs, women and the minorities.



Source: Economic Times

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