A vendor waits for customers in front of sacks of grains at his roadside shop in Kolkata yesterday.
New Delhi: The Lok Sabha last night passed an ambitious National Food Security Bill which aims to provide heavily subsidised food to two-thirds of India’s 1.2 billion people.
The bill is a pet welfare legislation of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who was taken ill during the eight hours long debate and was rushed to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) here for observation.
In a speech heard in silence in the Lok Sabha, Gandhi, 66, declared: “The food bill is meant for the less fortunate sections of our society. It is a historic step to eradicate hunger.
Saying that India’s goal must be to banish hunger, Gandhi yesterday urged parliament to take a “historic step” by legislating a bill which seeks to ensure subsidised food to the millions of poor and needy.
“The food bill is meant for the less fortunate sections of our society,” she said while taking part in an animated discussion in the Lok Sabha. “It is a historic step to eradicate hunger.”
“It is time to send out a big message that India can take the responsibility of ensuring food security for all its citizens,” she added, to loud thumping of desks by members of the Congress-led UPA. “It’s time to take the historic step,” Gandhi said of the bill, her pet welfare legislation and which many feel may prove to be a game-changer in the next Lok Sabha election.
“It is my fervent appeal that we shall pass this unanimously.” As the House listened to her in silence, Gandhi explained the significance of the legislation. “Our foreseeable future must be to wipe out hunger and malnutrition from our country.
“This legislation is only a beginning. As we move forward, we will be open to constructive suggestion, we will learn from experiences, have an opportunity to transform the lives of millions of people.
“I believe we all must rise to the occasion, set aside our differences and affirm our commitment to (people’s) welfare and well being.
“It’s my fervent and humble appeal... to convert this bill into an act and do so unanimously.”
The bill proposes subsidised foodgrain for up to 75 percent of the rural and up to 50 percent of the urban population. It proposes meal entitlement to specific groups.
Eligible households would get five kg of foodgrain per person every month — Rs3 a kilo for rice, Rs2 a kilo for wheat and Rs1 a kilo for coarse grains. Gandhi brushed aside criticism about the legislation, saying the question was not of whether “we have the means” but that “we will have to find the means” to implement it.
“We have to do it,” she said emphatically, triggering another round of applause.
Referring to various measures taken by the United Progressive Alliance government since 2005 to empower people, she said the food security bill was the fifth in a series of legal entitlement.