Sonia launches ambitious food security programme in Delhi - The New Indian Express

Sonia launches ambitious food security programme in Delhi

Published: 20th August 2013 05:47 PM

Last Updated: 20th August 2013 06:40 PM

Notwithstanding the delay in passage of the "game changer" Food Security Bill in Parliament, Congress President Sonia Gandhi today launched the ambitious programme in Delhi on the birth anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi, while hailing it as an "unparalleled" scheme in the world.

The scheme was rolled out in three Congress-ruled states of Delhi, Haryana and Uttarakhand even as the consideration of the Bill was scuttled in Parliament by the Opposition, which cornered the government on the issue of missing files related to the coal block allocation.

Unveiling the scheme by handing over food grain packets and Aadhar-based smart cards to a number of poor women, Gandhi lauded UPA government for bringing "revolutionary changes" in the life of common man but noted that the struggle is not yet over and a lot was still to be done.

Maintaining that there are still people in the country who do not get two-square meals and that it was the duty of the government to take care of the poorest of the poor, Gandhi said that was the reason the why the food security programme was conceived.

"We made the scheme so that nobody remains hungry in the country and no one's child sleeps hungry. Giving food security in such a large scale is unparalleled in the world and we are proud of it," she added.

"Two-third of the nation's 125 crore people will be provided food grains at very cheap rates. Over 80 crore people in the country will get food grains at cheaper rates besides 50 per cent of the urban population will also benefit from it.

The Food Security programme will be the biggest in the world with the government spending estimated at 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.

Under the scheme, the beneficiaries will have the right to get 5 kg foodgrains every month at highly subsidised rates of Rs 1-3 per kg.

Emphasising the need to plug the loopholes in the public distribution system, she said "we all know, there are many deficiencies in the PDS system. That is why, great importance has been attached to bring in reforms in the PDS under the food security programme so that benefits of the law reaches to right people and there is no scope for corruption." 

She also recalled Rajiv Gandhi's concern for the poor and added that "UPA government is following the ideals of Gandhi and continuously marching forward to bring revolutionary changes in the lives of the aam admi." 

While Gandhi refrained from attacking the opposition, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and Union Food Minister K V Thomas slammed them for obstructing the passage of the Bill in Parliament. Thomas was in particular critical of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi accusing him of delaying the "right of the people".

Attacking Modi over his recent letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seeking consultations with the states on the food security programme, Thomas said that discussions were held with the states and rued "opposition parties are not taking a positive attitude." 

"Last week, we got a letter from the Gujarat Chief Minister. What is the purpose? The purpose is to delay the right of the people. Modi, who wants to become the next Prime Minister, is delaying this right of the people for food," he said.

Dikshit also took potshot at the opposition parties saying they have a habit of opposing all the good iniatives of the government. "The opposition is not allowing the passage of the Bill but Congress is committed to pass it." 

She said the scheme provides for empowering the women as under the provision the right to food is given to a family through the woman head.

"It is historical initiative. There is no other scheme in the world in which food is being given through the female head of the family," Dikshit said.

Billed as the world's largest social welfare programme, the Government had issued an ordinance last month. Since a Bill had to be brought in Parliament within six weeks of issuance of the Ordinance, the government had introduced a bill in this session.

However, a discussion on it could not be carried forward as the Opposition disrupted Parliament proceedings on one or the other issue. Opposition leaders have been insisting that no bill should be passed in the din.

The Bill has been the pet project of Sonia Gandhi who is also UPA Chairperson.

The loan waiver and MNREGA schemes were credited among other things for return of UPA to power in 2009.

Partymen are pushing for early implementation so that the scheme is well in place by the time the next Lok Sabha elections are held.

The Congress president expressed happiness that priority is being given to women self help groups and gram panchayats to implement the scheme. "This will help women get a respectable place in the society.

Gandhi said the scheme has a "life-cycle" approach and has a special provisions for pregnant and lactating mothers.

Thomas also allayed apprehensions about the financial burden on the exchequer and the challenge of food grain availability due to the scheme. "India's current production is 210 million tonnes and the need for the scheme is only 64 million tonnes. We are exporting food grains".

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Both Houses adjourned till Thursday  

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