Not wholly valid


Union Minister for Food KV Thomas is not wholly correct in saying, as he said in the Lok Sabha on Monday, that the Government had to take the...

Union Minister for Food KV Thomas is not wholly correct in saying, as he said in the Lok Sabha on Monday, that the Government had to take the ordinance route to the Food Security Bill because of the obstructionist tactics adopted by the Opposition in the Budget session. Right ends do not justify wrong means; that was what the Mahatma taught Indians during the freedom struggle.

Frankly, the Bill had put the Opposition in a fix: it could not have opposed it in principle and yet have sought from the electorate a fresh mandate. It would have been rejected by the electorate with contempt for having deprived over 65% of the country’s population of food security which the Bill guaranteed.

Neither could the Opposition have endorsed or adopted the Bill in the form in which the Government had presented it because it had left many loose ends untied. All this is, however, not to suggest that the Opposition parties should have had the courage to act either way. It was a kind of Hobson’s choice that they were presented with; they had either to swallow it hook, line and sinker or had to risk public displeasure by rejecting it. Therefore, they adopted the line of least resistance by avoiding discussion and passage of the Bill. In the process, however, the Government failed to consider at least a few of the amendments suggested by the Opposition parties.

Even in the present Bill, at least three points, probably the most important, have not been clarified. First, according to a credible estimate, implementation of the Bill would knock off 1.2% of the GDP, or nearly Rs.1, 800 billion. Where will the government find that money when the economy is in the doldrums? Second, as it happened in the case of fair-price shops, the food grains heavily subsidized under the Bill might find their way ultimately into the black market. Third, if for some reason the farmer is not paid the minimum support price for his produce not only will the entire scheme collapse but the farmer will also be ruined. The need for the measure was never in doubt, but Opposition reservations seemed to stem from the perception that political partisanship has gone into its designing.

As such, even now it is not too late for the Parliament to discuss the various suggestions and amendments made by the Opposition even if not all of them are incorporated in the legislation for it to be passed unanimously. Whether or not the measure is designed to be a game-changer in the parliamentary elections scheduled for 2014 will be known only when the results are announced. But the nation would be justified in rejoicing over the fact that at least 65 years after Independence 67% of the population is being sought to be assured of food grains at rates they can afford.

If the measure is delayed further, it would be a greater national disgrace. A government that cannot feed at least a majority of its poor forfeits its right to govern; indeed, the entire parliamentary form of government would come into disrepute for having let down the country’s poor decades after its adoption. It is, therefore, essential that the Government should now accommodate at least the reasonable suggestions of the Opposition, and the Opposition should not try to make political capital out of supply of the most basic of human necessities to those who have been denied it for decades.

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