by Piyasree Dasgupta Aug 26, 2013 22:40 IST
10.45 pm: Voting over and the Bill has been passed
The Food Security Bill with amendments has been passed by the Lower House of the Parliament. The Lok Sabha has been adjourned and will now meet tomorrow at 11 am.
10. 40 pm Voting on amendments to Food Bill are now over
Sushma Swaraj said that the Food Security Bill is half-baked, but BJP will still support it.
Sharad Yadav says, "Make sure that the farmers do not suffer due to this bill."
10.15 pm: Amendments to Food Bill still being passed
Sushma Swaraj has asked for an amendment to Clause 38 of the Food Security bill. She says that the clause has been loosely worded and in fact gives all powers to the central government but puts the responsibility and liability on the state government.
Sushma Swaraj does seem to have a lot of amendments to the bill. Someone was heard screaming in the Parliament, "Madam jaan to chodho," ( Madam please let us be.)
However Sushmaji was amused and not angry with the heckler.
8:52pm: Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice president Rahul Gandhi leave Parliament while voting was on on amendments to the Food Security Bill. According to a CNN-IBN alert, Sonia has been admitted to the ICU of AIIMS hospital. She had complained of chest pains.
Lok Sabha gets ready to vote on amendments on National Food Security Bill, 2013
8.15pm: Constructive suggestions to be positively considered, says Thomas
Thanking Lok Sabha for an active participation in the discussion on the Food Security Bill, Union Minister KV Thomas 24 members participated in the deliberation on the new Bill.
"All constructive suggestions that have come will be positively considered. We will along the implementation process plug the loopholes in the Bill. States and Central government have to go hand in hand," said Thomas.
"There is no dearth of consultation. I have called 24 meetings of the state food ministers regarding the Bill," the minister said. "Recommendations of the Standing Committee were accepted except for one. This has put a lot of pressure on the government," he said.
"The Bill was with the Standing Committee for a year," Thomas said.
"Many members have pointed out that there are damages and leakages in the Central Procurement System. Due to our efforts and of an advisory committee under a senior MP, the losses in storage and transportation by FCI has come down to 0.07 percent from 2.5 percent five years back," the minister said while talking about steps to cut losses.
"Whatever the quantity the states are getting for the last three years will be protected," the food minister said while allaying fears of MPs like AIADMK's M Thambidurai who doubted if Tamil Nadu will be in disadvantageous because of the new food bill.
Assuring the Hosue that the interest of the farmers will be protected, Thomas said,"All foodgrains coming to the market will be procured by the Food Corporation of India. There is also no proposal to freeze the minimum support of price."
The minister also clarified that the bill has nothing to do with cash transfer.
"Our intention is only to procure and distribute foodgrains. We have nothing to with cash transfer," Thomas said.
Admitting that different models adopted by states like Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh are excellent in their respective states, the minister said, "We have taken all the best things from all the existing role models. It has to be understood that what is good for Chhattisgarh may not be fit for Kerala."
7.35pm: Great legislation, says Asaduddin Owaisi from All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen.
7.30pm: First Bill to prevent death from hunger: Jagdambika Pal
Congress MP Jagdambika Pal speaks as the second speaker of the party backing the Food Security Bill.
"This legislation will be the world's first where it will prevent death because of hunger. Congress is the first party in the country which has brought in Right to Work, Right to Education and Right to Food," said Pal while attacking the Opposition citing Article 41 of the Indian Constitution.
Article 41 (Right to work, to education and to public assistance in certain cases) states: "The State shall, within the limits of its economic capacity and development, make effective provision for securing the right to work, to education and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement, and in other cases of undeserved want."
7.05pm: Food Security Bill will have long-term effect, says Lalu
Taking on the Opposition for calling the Food Security Bill a poll gimmick, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad said that the BJP was quick to sell onions at Rs 20 a kilo when the price of the consumable commodity went north.
"BJP is a party of onion sellers," Prasad said sending his colleagues into a roll of laughter.
"The Bill shows that Congress president Sonia Gandhi has a big heart to take care of the poor," the RJD chief said while supporting the Bill.
"This Bill will have long-term effect and the Opposition should respect the sanctity of the Bill. Food Security Bill will give cheap meal to the SCs, STs and downtrodden of the society," he said.
6.55pm: Food security will take subsidy bill through the roof, says Harsimrat Kaur Badal
Bathinda MP and Shiromani Akali Dal member Harsimrat Kaur Badal in a high-pitched voice criticised the Centre calling the Food Security Bill an election-oriented effort when the inflation went through the roof in the last nine years.
"Is 5kg of foodgrain sufficient for a month? Now the government wants the people to survive on a few dry rotis when the election is only six months away," Kaur said.
"This highly subsidised bill will not only increase the fiscal deficit but put pressure on the government to keep the MSP as low as possible. If the government is forced to import foodgrains because of a bad agriculture year, the bill will be unmanageable. The country's finances will go for a toss and the farmers will suffer the most," she said while opposing the Bill.
6.48pm: Beware of the subsidy bill, RLD warns Centre
Rashtriya Lok Dal member and Mathura MP Jayant Chaudhary, while praising the Food Security Bill, said that if right steps are not taken it will be unsustainable and impossible to implement.
"While it is a fact that the Saxena Committee mentioned that there is 61 percent exclusion error and 25 percent inclusion error in the PDS, the Food Security Bill is not based on the BPL list," Chaudhary said.
While warning the government on the subsidy bill, the MP said, "No finance minister will be happy with the subsidy bill. The Rs 1.25 lakh crore subsidy bill will only increase in future. The process of fixing MSP should also be changed."
6.23pm: Why charge Rs 3 a kil0? Give it for free, AIADMK tells Centre
Criticising the Centre for charging Rs 3 a kilo for rice in the Food Security Bill, AIADMK parliamentarian M Thambidurai cited a Supreme Court judgement where it had said that the rats are eating foodgrains for free in godowns while the government has put a price for the actual beneficiaries.
"Why is the Centre not giving food to the poor for free?" Thambidurai asked.
"The Centre is facing a tough time because of tension with its neighbours, terrorism and also for rupee devaluation. This Food Security Bill is a poll gimmick," the AIADMK MP from Karur alleged while opposing the Bill.
"There is no benefit for our state (Tamil Nadu). How can we support the Bill? Our Chief Minister (J Jayalalithaa) is running a better scheme. Even the Food Minister (KV Thomas) that our state is affected. But the protection that is provided by the Centre is not adequate," he said.
The AIADMK also opposed the move to make the states import foodgrains in case there is a shortage as per the provisions of the Bill.
"Don't put all financial burdens on the state governments," Thambidurai said.
Monsoon Session extended till 6 September 2013
6.00pm: Stop insensitive comments on poverty, says Praful Patel
Slamming the Planning Commission for its Rs 28 and Rs 33 comments on poverty, Bhandara-Gondiya MP and Nationalist Congress Party member Praful Patel said no one in this Parliament should agree with these ridiculous figures although he welcomed the Food Security Bill.
"Let a beginning happen. Food Security Bill is a step forward towards helping citizens of our country," Patel said.
"We also should not talk about food in Rs 5 or Rs 12. We are making a joke of ourselves," the parliamentarian warned his colleagues over the recently made insensitive comments on food price.
The former Union aviation minister also expressed disappointment over the disparity of growth in the country.
"Despite the progress India has achieved, it is a matter of shame that crores of people still sleep hungry at night in the country. It is sad that India's poverty still grab headlines in international media," he said.
5.38pm: Shiv Sena supports Food Security Bill
Raigad MP and Shiv Sena member Anant Geete said the party supports the Food Security Bill but it is the responsibility of the Centre to ensure that the actual beneficiaries are benefited without burdening the state governments.
5.25pm: Targeted approach will fail Food Security Bill, says BJD's Mahtab
Rising to speak Cuttack MP and BJD member Bhartruhi Mahtab said that the trickle down theory of economics has failed to bring food to the plates of the millions in the last 60 years.
"In the last 60 years, budget grew 5,000 times, however, food production grew only 400 percent times. If the food security is considered right to life, how can the targeted approach be the right one," Mahtab said.
"Targeted approach excludes the most margilinalised of the population. The examples is the PDS where massive corruption has crept in and the beneficiaries left out," he said.
"Enrolling new members is going to be a struggle and harassment as per the Food Security Bill," the Cuttack MP said.
The Odisha government is opposed to the per capita approach in the Food Security Bill.
"Let the states decide whether to adopt either the household or the individual system. The Centre should be flexible on that. Exclusion criteria should also be the states' prerogative. Excluding the people living in concrete houses is a bad idea. Will those living in houses built under the Indira Awaas Yojana be excluded?" Mahtab asked.
"Instead of marking population as BPL or APL, the public distribution system facility should be available to all," he said.
"Integrated Child Development Services is a business of Rs 170,000 crore annually. It should be a part of the food security bill and not a legally available option for mega contractors to exploit the situation," the BJD MP said.
4.57pm: Scope of Food Security Bill limited, says DMK's Baalu
Slamming the data on which the distribution of food under the new bill is based, DMK leader and Sriperumbudur MP TR Baalu said the entire House will not agree with the statistics of Planning Commission and NSSO on poverty.
"Because of number constraints, the Centre was forced to limit the reach of the Food Security Bill," Baalu said.
Saying that it is not to be moment to be proud of because of the poverty, he said, "Despite celebrating the 67th Independence Day, we hold our head with shame as we failed to eliminate poverty. India has the highest number of poor people among the BRICS nations. It is the highest number of malnutrition related cases and child mortality."
However, the DMK MP gets angry when he is asked by Basudeb Acharia in the Chair to wind up as he already spoke for 12 minutes.
"I am not doing fun and frolics in Parliament," Baalu said.
4.30pm: Should not be a mere poll gimmick, says Kalyan Banerjee
Serampore MP and Trinamool Congress member Kalyan Banerjee said that the Centre should be serious about the Food Security Bill and it should not end up being a mere poll gimmick.
However, Banerjee wanted the Centre should bear the complete cost of implementation.
"If the Centre is taking credit for the Bill, it should also bear the expenditure. It is incorrect where the states spend the money and the Centre takes the credit. It is also sad the the bill will not give universal coverage," he said.
The MP also wanted the Centre to specify storage capacity.
4.20pm: Bold step by Centre, says Sharad Yadav
Supporting the Food Security Bill, Janata Dal (United) president Sharad Yadav said this was a bold effort by the Centre.
However, Yadav said that implementing the Bill won't be an easy task as he had seen how other programmes for the country's poor have suffered due to middlemen and corruption.
"The beneficiaries of the schemes hardly get any benefits because of the middlemen and rampant corruption," he said. "It is hunger and dignity that affect the poor the most in the country."
The JD(U), however, expressed serious doubts if the food security scheme will succeed without active financial support from the Centre.
"This is a national scheme by the Centre. The Centre must bear the cost. Only in Bihar, Rs 1,500 crore will be needed on the first day only to augment godown facilities in the state. Rs 600 crore will be needed to increase the number of Public Distribution System shops. Another Rs 400 crore will be required for the door-to-door delivery system. Where will the states get money from for the 50:50 rationalisation of cost to implement the computerisation of the system," Yadav said.
"There is no mention about the commission that the PDS shops will get," he said.
The JD(U) chief also said that there are not enough safeguards for the farmers in the bill at a time when 300,000 farmers have committed suicide.
"The minimum support price must be revised every three years for the farmers. Will the price of diesel not increase in three years?" Yadav asked.
He concluded by hoping that the Bill do not support the same fate as the other schemes for the poor.
4pm: Must introspect why there is poverty, says BSP's Dara Singh Chouhan
Expressing support for the Food Security Bill, Bahujan Samaj Party's Dara Singh Chouhan said had there been efforts to find out the actual causes of poverty the country today would not have debated upon the food security bill.
"There was never an introspection why there is poverty in India. If there is fever we are given a paracetamol so that the temperature comes down and we feel better. But there is no effort made to do the exact diagnosis. Why we are rich? Why they are poor?" Chouhan said.
But the MP said the bill must be more realistic.
"This bill is made by those who are not familiar with the pangs of poverty. There must be serious efforts to prevent the leakage from the fields to the godown. If we are able to plug the loopholes in the public distribution system, we can make this bill a success," he said.
Chouhan also praised UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi for speaking in Hindi.
3.50pm: How will states foot the bill for food security? asks Samajwadi Party's Mulayam Singh Yadav
"You have to find out how many people are below BPL. You need actual figures for that and I am sorry to say that you have none. There is no statistics on the number of poor in the country after 1997," Yadav said blaming the Centre for being ill-prepared.
"How can you make a Food Security Bill on assumptions? Rs26,000 crore or Rs 30,000 crore is not the problem. How much financial liabilities will the states have to bear because of this Food Security Bill? From where will the states generate fund? There is no mention about that in the Bill," he said.
The SP chief also expressed concern for the farmers.
"Is there a guarantee that the farmers will have the right price for their produce and their land will be protected? The government should bring in amendments that ensures that every grain produced by the farmers will be bought by the government," Yadav said.
"The Centre should understand that the states are in a precarious financial situation. This Bill is directly related with the polls. When there was an actual famine situation the Bill was nowhere to be seen," the SP chief said.
3.45 pm: Sonia is all rhetoric in her defence of Food Security Bill
Strangely enough, Sonia Gandhi, instead of countering the BJP's criticism with facts, resorts to rhetoric and metaphors to defend the party's ambitious bill, its only poll weapon.
"Some people are asking if we have resources to implement the Bill. I say, we have to arrange for resources to implement it. Some people are asking if we can do this. I will say, we have to do this?"
Our takeaway from her pitch: The Congress chief has a speech writer with a severe predilection for melodrama. For all you know he/she also moonlights as Prakash Jha's dialogue writer.
She goes on to pat herself and her party on the back by mentioning, yet again, how the bill will change the lives of the country's poor. She still doesn't address any of Murli Manohar Joshi's concerns.
"The Aadhar card will make sure that fake ration card holders are weeded out" is the only clarification she offers.
"I admit that the Bill has some weaknesses and if it is not implemented with sincerity it will be doing grave injustice to the the public," she confesses, however, slipping back to the all's-great-with-the-Bill mode immediately.
Strangely however, she chooses to refer to the Congress mothballed defence tool - the RTI Act - in an attempt to justify the party's decisions and their relevance.
"We had brough in the RTI Act, the MGNREGA, the Forests Act. We have always worked for the benefit of the poor and the people. The Food Security Bill, in the same vein, has been designed for the good of the people," she said.
3.30 pm: It is your design to not end poverty, Murli Manohar Joshi tells Congress
"Where will you get the money to implement the Food Security Bill?" Murli Manohar Joshi hits out at the Congress where it hurts the most.
The party, dimantles the food bill, clause by clause, to prove that the bill is a hasty measure to increase the Congress' political bargaining power. "You are sitting on a volcano of poverty, and is this what you come up with? Your bill says that you will provide farmers with storage facilities. You haven't been able to do that in the past 10-12 years, how will you do it right away?" he asks.
He says that the government also says that Centre will provide enough rakes to transport food grains. "Who is making the rakes? Who is making the extra rakes for transportation? Are you going to acquire those rakes with black magic he jokes?"
He alleges that the Congress wants to keep Indians poor so that the government can pretend that it is with them.
However, in his 'we're more pro-poor than you' rant, Joshi got a little too carried away. "We don't want anyone to go hungry in the state. We don't want anyone to go hungry anywhere in this world. We don't want any animal, bird, insect to go hungry," he declared, emotionally. We were stumped by the last? If all all insects stop going hungry, god save food on this earth!
2.45 pm: BJP reiterates points raised by Modi to criticize Food Security Bill
Like the points Narendra Modi had raised about nutrition needs of people, BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi kicks off the BJP's participation in the Food Bill debate by pointing out how the provisions in the Bill are not enough to feed a person 'adequately'.
Murli Manohar Joshi says, "By international standards a person needs 14 kilos of cereals a month. If you look at your own survey, one conducted by the NSSO, you'll find that it says that the poorest people in rural areas needs at least 9.88 kilos of food grains a month. You are providing just 7 kgs," he points out.
Also, you are just providing 50 percent of urban population with food grains under the scheme. "What will the rest eat? If I stay in a city and I am poor, what will I eat? Do I eat coal, do I eat oil?"
He added that even when the Planning Commission has appreciated that Chhattisgarh model of development, the Centre has ignored it and refused to take pointers from that model for its own Food Security ordinance.
"This is not a Food Security Bill. This is a Vote Security Bill. This is a gamechanger bill," Joshi takes a searing dig at the Congress' desperation to get the Bill passed.
In fact, he had started his speech saying that the Bill was long due and the UPA is passing it only when it is on its way out.
" Jab aap aye the, aap bill laane waale the
Aap ab Bill lane waale hain, to aap jaane waale hain."
In fact, from Murli Manohar Joshi's speech, it seems that the BJP's primary agenda is to make sure that the Congress fails to flaunt the bill to pool in votes in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Consequently, he repeatedly refers to the claims made by Congress about providing 'food security' and says that the Congress should stop showing off the Bill as some sort of an achievement.
"Say you cannot provide everything needed, that will be understood. Don't go tell the world that you have made sure no one goes hungry in the country," he said.
The BJP, which has already declared it will let the Food Bill pass (unlike the Left Front who wanted the ordinance scrapped) will try to punch as many holes as it can in the Congress' claims of success and pro-poor policies. That way, like we observed earlier, it will not be in direct Opposition to the bill but will distance itself from the flaws in it.
2.30 pm: Left Front flays food bill, raises old issues with the Bill
Prabodh Panda of the Left Front reiterates the criticism that the Food Security Ordinance has been facing right from its inception. He pointed out that the quantity of food grains provided under the scheme is not adequate. "Medical research has shown that people need more food than what the ordinance provides. Also is food just rice, is food just wheat? Food is pulses, food is edible oils. Where is all that?" he questions.
He also criticises the government's criteria of deciding who is covered under the scheme.
"This is not a Food 'Security' Bill. If you call it the Law for Food Entitlement of the Poor, then it is understandable," he says, adding the bill doesn't provide any form of security.
2.10 pm: KV Thomas initiates debate on Food Security Bill
Thomas apprises the House of the provisions of the Food Security Bill. He also informs the House about the amendments that have been made to the Food Security Ordinance keeping with the state demands.
"Initially it was decided that the Centre will decide the guidelines for eligibility. However, after the states demanded more participation, we have amended that bit. Now the states will decide the criteria by which people can avail benefits of the scheme," said Thomas.
He added that the Centre will also help the states shoulder the expenditure of transportation of grains within the state. "This bill will also enhance accountability and transparency. In the current PDS system, there is at least 20-30 percent leakage which leads to black marketing. We have made provisions for the setting up of vigilance committees that will monitor the distribution of supplies and make sure the right people get them. We have also put in a clause by which a government servant will be punished if he/she found to be involved in squandering of the supply or if the distribution is not done properly," added Thomas.
Playing to the galleries with this arsenal of amendments, he said that the 18 states (out of 35) who are getting less supply of grains due to the new Bill will actually get the old allocation of food grains from the Centre, as per the amendments. "The price in which states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala were getting grains, will also remain the same. Whatever is the offtake of these 18 states under the existing PDS system for the past three years, will be protected," declared Thomas to loud table thumping.
The result: a glimpse of a sleep starved-looking, heavily bearded Rahul Gandhi smiling ear to ear!
12.43 pm: 'Is the VHP the custodian of Hinduism?'
Sharad Yadav, true to his style, jumped into the debate pulling up all the parties involved in the debate. He started on a rather tame note, saying that communal harmony should be maintained in the House. However, he soon ran into trouble with his observation on the VHP - which he chose to pepper with his trademark outrageous rhetoric. Responding to Adityanath's claims that Hinduism is in danger and is falling prey to the secular politics of India and the UP government, a scathing Yadav asked:
"VHP kya Hindu o ka thekedaar hain? (is VHP the self-appointed caretaker of Hinduism in the country)"
The House, as expected, immediately broke out in protests and was adjourned till 2pm.
12.30 pm: Mulayam Singh Yadav flays BJP and accuses them of trying to revive communal politics
The politics of religion bares its ugly face in the Lok Sabha today. What all the parties involved in the VHP yatra issue managed to avoid yesterday, they plunged into headlong in the House toady.
While it started with Sangh sympathisers and some BJP MP's raising a din over the aborted VHP yatra in AYodhya, it finally boiled down to a direct war of words between Mulayam Singh Yadav and Yogi Aditya Nath, a BJP MP from UP.
Mulayam Singh started his address to the House reffering to the party's 'communal politics'. He said that by criticising the BJP government's crackdown on the VHP yatra they are proving that they neither care about the Indian constitution nor about the country's Supreme Court.
"The dispute over Ayodhya dates back to 1985. I have been witness to how the BJP provoked communal feelings that led to the riots over Ayodhya. Following that, the Supreme Court entrusted the government with the responsibility to maintain communal harmony in the state. We are just following the SC's orders," he said.
Following that he questioned if the BJP is trying to revive that same brand of politics over religion. A visibly angry Mulayam asked if they had used force yesterday. "They are lying. We have not hit anyone, attack anyone, we have just asked them not to go ahead with the rally. Actually, a bunch of these VHP troublemakers couldn't get public support. Most of the seers refused to party with them. That is whay they are saying all this to cover up their failure," he said.
However, getting carried away by his anti-VHP diatribe, Mulayam called the BJP 'goondas'. The party, which had kept unusually calm even as Mulayam lobbed accusation after accusation at them, flared up at being called 'goondas'.
"What are you if you are not goondas," yelled Mulayam at the BJP MPs in a curious momemnt of political irony. He also demanded the BJP activists alleging government harassment to show their injuries. "Show us where you have injuries from the police beating you up," he said dismissively.
"Danga kar ke votes lena chahte hain (they want to create a ruckus to get votes)," he accused the BJP.
While all the senior BJP leaders, including Sushma Swaraj, Yashwant Singh and Advani stayed mum on the issue, UP MP Yogi Adityanath took it upon himself to counter Mulayam.
How? By throwing the same accusations back at Mulayam Sigh Yadav. Anti-Hindi, anti-democracy, anti-peace, were what Adityanath called Mulayam.
"They have infringed on the democratic rights to religion. They accosted 2,000 saints. On one hand they are releasing terrorists and declaring them innocent and on the other they are insulting Hindus," he shouted. This drew a loud cheer from his colleagues laying bare the fact that it is still religious biases that strongly drive Indian politics.
"This government is turning their land into graveyards while people are homeless. They are indulging jehadists and terrorists. Their dynastic poltics is all about discrediting Hindus. Ram Mandir is our right and we demand that a Ram Temple be built on the ground in Ayodhya. The temple is the right of several sadhus," he hollered, again drawing defeaning applause from a section of his colleagues.
11.40 am: The Food Security Bill's new adversary: VHP's thwarted yatra
Given that not many senior BJP leaders came out in protest of the SP's ban on VHP's yatra in Ayodhya, it is somewhat surprising that the House has run into trouble for the same reason. Most senior BJP leaders were not vocal about SP's crack down in the rally and chose to issue rather tame statements on the VHP's democratic right to hold a procession.
In the floor of the Lok Sabha too, the senior BJP leaders like LK Advani, Rajnath Singh are seen sitting impassively as the lot of MPs behind them stand up arguing raucously and not letting the Parliament function.
Mulayam Singh Yadav has been waiting to make a statement for a while now but is being continually interrupted by the BJP. The SP MPs have now joined the cacophony by answering the hollering BJP MPs back.
Meira Kumar adjourns the House till 12 pm again.
11.10 am: Meira Kumar tries her best to calm the House down, but BJP MPs are a handful!
Meira Kumar's day in the Lok Sabha starts with chanting 'baith jaiye'. However, the Lok Sabha MPs, fresh and rejuvenated after a weekend, don't see why they shouldn't be allowed to channel their accumulated energies in the House. Despite the speaker, smiling, scolding and admonishing the MPs, they walk into the well, with a new issue this morning.
Today's agenda: The aborted VHP rally in Ayodhya.
Whatever the Congress' strategy had been when it 'convinced' Sushma Swaraj, like always, is not working on the floor of the House.
The BJP, cleverly, decided to completely ignore the Congress on the face of it, and started protesting against the Samajwadi party's clamp down on the Chaurasi Kosi Yatra.
The result? The Congress cannot directly accuse the BJP of trying to scuttle the food bill. Meanwhile, its wait to get the Bill passed just got longer!
Meira Kumar adjourns the House for half and hour.
10.20 am: Will the Food Security Bill be finally passed today?
Both the government and the opposition have pulled all the plugs it could have to pass the Food Bill and oppose it, respectively. Even as Sushma Swaraj kept saying in Lok Sabha that they were keen on a discussion on the bill, the BJP took covert measures that disrupted the Parliament and held off the bill. When it ran out of issues to corner the government on, it tried riding the anti-Telangana wave to make sure the Congress' food bill dreams were delayed further.
However, the Congress seems to be clearing up its path fast with Speaker Meira Kumar suspending 11 MPs - 7 Congress and 4 TDP - from the Lok Sabha for creating ruckus.
According to a report on The Times of India, the government has convinced the Opposition to let the Food Security Bill be allowed passage in the Lok Sabha today. In fact, in its desperation to get the Bill passed, the government has even brought in several amendments suggested by various Opposition parties. The report says that several of the Opposition patry members, including the Left, have admitted off record that the amended Bill is a signifucantly improved from the ordinance that was prepared in July this year.
It remains to be seen if the Opposition sticks to its word this time and lets the Food Security Bill to be passed.
End of updates from 25 August
12:00 pm: Congress MP accuses VHP of attempting to rake up communal issues with 84 mile rally
While the BJP MPs engaged in a war of words with other party's MPs who raised objections to the VHP rally, they came under attack from Congress MP Jagadambika Pal who gave a long explanation about the mythology about Lord Ram and claimed that the rally was being carried out purely for political gain.
What was a calm lower House of Parliament continued to be a noisy one until the issue of China intruding into India's border in Arunachal Pradesh came up. Then there was calm in the House.
11:30 am: Lok Sabha debates matters of public importance which includes onion prices and food inflation
So it seems the absence of the shouting Andhra Pradesh MPs was all that was needed to allow the Lok Sabha to function. They're presently hearing urgent matters of public importance.
Sharad Yadav of the JD(U) sedately argued about inflation and other matters. Even Speaker Meira Kumar is calmer and can be heard for a change today.
Prabhunath Singh of the RJD has taken up the matter of the rally in Ayodhya that is planned by the VHP and is using it to target the BJP.
"There should a regulation against allowing parties that allow this sort of communalism," Singh said, to protests from BJP MPs.
10: 20 am : Can Parliament finally function today?
With the 11 Andhra Pradesh MPs being named and kept out of the Lok Sabha it should mean that despite being called in on Saturday, MPs may have a more peaceful day in office today.
The seven MPs were named by Speaker Meira Kumar will be out of Parliament for the next five to six days but its still not certain that all other parties will back the UPA when it comes to passing the Food Bill.
While there will be no question hour and Parliament will directly move on to passing legislation, the all important Food Bill will not come up for hearing today and will be heard only on Monday.
However, among other legislation that will come up for hearing today includes the amendment to the RTI Act which will allow political parties to stay out of the ambit of the act. Lets see if that faces any objection while being passed by Parliament.
Updates for 23 August
12.21 pm: Furor over Mumbai gang-rape reaches Rajya Sabha
Smriti Irani took the protest over the Mumbai gang rape to the Rajya Sabha. She questioned why the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013, which was passed by the Parliament earlier this year, has not been properly implemented by the government yet.
Following which the House erupted in protest and there was a violent war of words between Irani and other party members as PJ Kurien kept on shouting, "Please don't politicize the issue."
Lok Sabha was adjourned for the day with the Opposition steadfastly sticking to its agenda of not letting the House function.
11.25 pm: BJP scores on politicking, Lok Sabha adjourned
As was expected the BJP didn't blink and stuck to its strategy of not letting the Parliament function in order to scuttle the food bill. The moment the house opened, chaos broke out over the issue of suspension of the Andhra MPs and the House was adjourned till 12.30 pm.
End of updates from 22 August
12.45 pm: Lok Sabha adjourned till tomorrow
Kamal Nath's motion to suspend Lok Sabha MPs seems to have woefully backfired. The Andhra Pradesh MPs, incensed by the Parliamentary Affairs Minister's move to suspend them, redoubled their shouting and chanting, leading to an adjournment of the house for the day.
And that's one less day in which to pass the Food Security Bill. Tick-tock.
12.11 pm: Sushma shows why she is the master of the Parliament games
Knowing well that their move will be painted by the Congress as anti-democracy and anti-parliament, Sushma Swaraj puts the Congress in a spot by a clever use of words. She starts off saying that she and her party is all for the Parliament to function. However, it was the government's responsibility to come up with an explanation on the missing Coalgate files and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should come up with an explanation. Like was evident in the Rajya Sabha today and as we noted earlier, the Congress softened its stance in the Parliament, possibly for the sake of the Food Security Bill. While Rajeev Shukla hinted that the PM might make a statement on the missing coal scam files in RS, Kamal Nath said in Lok Sabha that the coal minister is ready with a statement and if needed the PM will intervene.
Seeing that their Coalgate ruckus faced the threat of being derailed, Sushma changed stance immediately. She decided to piggyback on the already disruptive and drunk-on-justice Andhra MPs, to make sure that the BJP doesn't put itself in a position where it has to support the food bill yet. Congress MP Kamal Nath has moved a motion to suspend 7 of its own Congress MPs and 4 TDP MPs for disrupting the House. Sushma saw a great chance to succeed in stalling the parliament and not let the blame sit directly on her party's shoulders. So she said that though she was in support of the formation of the Telangana state, she didn't approve the way it was created.
"I support Telangana. But the way the government created Telangana was not right, that is why all this trouble is happening. In NDA's term two new states were created but there was no discord of any nature. The Congress split the state in an irresponsible manner, that's why its own MPs are protesting and that is why the Parliament is not being able function." With that, she lobbed the fireball right back into the Congress' court!
Meira Kumar adjourned the House without passing the resolution to suspend the MPs as the chaos reached deafening levels.
11.34 pm: PM might step in?
After the Rajya Sabha resumed, the Coalgate fire briefly consumes the Rajya Sabha again. However, Rajeev Shukla, seems to have done a good job of smothering it for the time being. "They wanted a statement. So the coal ministe gave one. Despite that, they wanted some more clairifications. I suggest we discuss the issue once more and let us clarify whatever doubt the Opposition had. If there is something we fail to answer and it is deemed necessary, the Prime Minister might intervene."
The House cools off for a while as the MPs take to discussing other issues.
11.12 am: Massive standoff between Govt and Opposition sees house adjourned
Two minutes into Parliament, and its very clear that the BJP has no plans of letting the missing Coalgate files fade into obscurity. The BJP's Ravi Shankar Prasad got up once again to attack the Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal's much debated statement on Tuesday.
The Prime Minister was sitting in the house, with a very bemused look on his face. Will he make the statement the BJP is looking for later today? Not likely, since MoS Parliamentary Affairs Rajeev Shukla said that Jaiswal's statement was more than sufficient.
Given that the BJP has categorically said that it will not let the house run until the Prime Minister makes a statement, it will be interesting to see what happens next. What hangs in the balance, is of course, the UPA's precious Food Security Bill.
The house finally got adjourned for 15 minutes after a massive screaming match between the clamouring opposition and MoS PMO, V Narayanasamy in the house. Fight! Fight! Fight!
11.00am: Will PM face BJP's heat for the sake of Food Security Bill?
The Congress' precious Food Security Bill might not make it through this monsoon session of Parliament if the current state of affairs is anything to go by.
Following the storm over Defence Minister AK Antony's confusing statement on the LoC attacks and Robert Vadra's questionable land deals, opposition parties seemed to be warming up to the idea of the food bill when the missing Coalgate files hit the Congress hard. The Parliament has been held ransom for the past couple of days by the Opposition demanding a statement from the Prime Minister on the missing Coalgate files. The last Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha sessions were adjourned on Tuesday following the BJP's unrelenting demands asking the Prime Minister to turn up in the House.
In Rajya Sabha, leader of Opposition, Arun Jaitley suggested that files with evidence of 'one family's' involvement in the scam have gone missing. Amid the back and forth between the BJP and present coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal, the latter made a hasty statement before the House saying that a committee has been constituted to probe the incident. He added that files from NDA's times have primarily gone missing. To which Jaitley demanded an explanation about how the files could have gone 'missing'. "Files don't disappear. They are made to disappear. Can the coal minister tell the House how the files went 'missing' when every movement of files are usually recorded and registered. Were they physically picked up and dumped somewhere else without registering?" he asked.
Meanwhile the Economic Times is reporting that the CBI claims coal files from both the NDA and UPA governments have gone missing.
In the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj led BJP's charge and adamantly demanded that the PM comes to Lok Sabha and assure the House that the probe will not be affected and that the files will be restored immediately. She, like her colleague in RS, suggested that since Manmohan Singh was the coal minister in the time when the scam occurred, he should come forward with an explanation instead of any other spokesperson from the government.
The previous session of Parliament was completely paralysed by the opposition demanding the Prime Minister resign over the Coalgate scam. The outcome of their stir was that they managed to scuttle almost every legislation that was supposed to be passed and gave the media, government enough reason to blame the BJP for disrupting important political processes. The Congress, though cornered, refused to yield to their demands and instead accused them of being unwilling to let Parliament work.
However, this time, as Firstpost's political editor Sanjay Singh noted, this might be a well thought out strategy on the BJP's part to make sure the Food Security Bill is not passed in the House. He notes: "The BJP knew that the prime minister would not easily accede to the opposition’s demand and make a statement at such a short notice. The two Leaders of Opposition, Arun Jaitley in Rajya Sabha and Sushma Swaraj in Lok Sabha, kept the aggression going."
Since it won't be politically rewarding for the BJP to directly oppose the Bill in Parliament because that would make them look like they are 'anti-poor', this might be BJP's political tool to thwart the Congress' lofty food bill plans. The BJP has criticised the flaws in the Food Security Bill at length but has refused to take a strong stand against it. Despite Narendra Modi's letter to the PM dissing the food bill, most BJP leaders have gone to record to say that they will let the government pass the bill.
Firstpost had previously observed why: "Taking a firm stand against the Bill entails coming up with positive suggestions that might help strengthening the Bill – suggestions which might work in favour of the UPA itself, if the Bill is passed and successfully implemented in its tenure. Now that is a political math that will not add up to benefit the Opposition. So by supporting the Bill and yet criticizing it at present, the Opposition has positioned itself in a convenient middle path."
However, the government seems to be in no mood to give up on the food bill and take the fall for the Opposition's smart politicking. According to a report in The Times of India, it has already readied 10 amendments that will be moved in Lok Sabha today by food minister KV Thomas so as to make the bill more state friendly and leave the Opposition with fewer reasons to oppose it.
In fact, it has also considered one of Modi's several objections to the bill and has decided to give states a larger role in deciding the rules of implementation of the Bill. The Times of India reports:
Another amendment will protect the existing level of subsidized allocation for foodgrains for states that are already drawing more than what the bill provides. This differential allocation will be at Rs 7 per kg for rice and Rs 6 per kg for wheat.
Apprehending the fact that the BJP might still have a political agenda against allowing the Bill passage in the Parliament, the Congress has also been on a drive to secure the necessary numbers to pass the Bill in the House. According to reports, Congress has reached out to the JD(U) and sought its cooperation in letting the Bill pass. A PTI report claims that parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath had a telephonic conversation with JD(U) MP Sharad Yadav and discussed ways to let the House function smoothly. Interestingly, Sharad Yadav was one of the few voices who had expressed his disgust with the MPs demanding an 'United Andhra' and said that they should allow the debate on food bill to take off. Also, still smarting from BJP's cold shoulder, the JD(U) might be in a positive mood to back the Congress in the House.
Another Economic Times report says the DMK, who split from the UPA over the Sri Lankan Tamils issue, has been convinced by the government to support the food bill in the House. According to the report, KV Thomas has had a series of meetings with DMK leader TR Baalu in the past few days. ET says:
A senior leader said the breakthrough came after the UPA regime assured the DMK leadership that Tamil Nadu would continue to receive the same quantum of rice even after the implementation of the national food scheme. The Centre would also ensure that the below poverty line quota for the state would be increased.
History is witness to the fact that while the DMK has been at loggerheads with the Congress on several issues, they had backed important legislation in the parliament. During the session in which the legislation for FDI in multi-brand retail was passed, DMK had criticised the policy in the floor of House but still backed it when it was being passed.
While the Congress has quietly gone about strengthening its arsenal, the BJP too has upped the ante of its stir. According to CNN-IBN, like the old times, the party has declared that they will not let Parliament function until the PM comes and gives a statement. Given that the Congress has had no hesitation in repeatedly throwing Manmohan Singh in the fire pit whenever they are faced with a crisis, one can expect that it will yield to the BJP's demands for the sake of the food bill. Given that they had a day's time to decide on its approach, the party might want to have the PM face the House's heat briefly before the food bill is debated. However, if that happens, the party will also conveniently checkmate the BJP who'll have to come up with more ideas to obstruct the food bill and ruin Congress' poll prospects further.
Read updates of the previous Parliament sessions here.
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