Govt puts off food security ordinance

FPP Chidambaram and K V Thomas after the meeting at PM’s residence in New Delhi on Thursday. Renuka Puri

The Centre Thursday deferred its proposed ordinance on the food security Bill after listing it in the Cabinet agenda, deciding instead to make one more attempt at gaining support of all political parties for the legislation in a special session of Parliament that it intends to convene in the next few weeks.

A Cabinet meeting in the morning set aside the proposed ordinance after backroom consultations between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other coalition leaders concluded that executive approval was not the best route at this juncture. Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, whose apprehensions over the Bill are well known, had closed door discussions with the Prime Minister where he is believed to have stressed on political consensus. In the evening, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who is the Bill's prime backer, met the Prime Minister on the subject, sources said.

That the option of convening a special session of Parliament was actually the first choice became apparent in the morning itself when the UPA leadership held consultations before the Cabinet meeting and agreed that the ordinance should not be moved.

Finance Minister P Chidambaram, who was addressing a press conference on the state of the economy, rushed to join senior colleagues at the Prime Minister's residence, including Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath and Food Minister K V Thomas to discuss the issue. In the next few days, these leaders will be interacting with opposition leaders to elicit their support for the food Bill and a special session of Parliament.

Thomas also had a telephonic conversation with Sonia. He had earlier held separate consultations with NCP chief Pawar, RLD leader Ajit Singh and National Conference's Farooq Abdullah.

The push for a special session, according to sources, gained acceptance after clear signals from several political parties, including the BJP, SP and Left, that they would oppose the ordinance on the food Bill. There also appeared to be some indication that the opposition parties may back the Bill in Parliament. "The food security Bill is ready. We would like to pass it as a Bill but the ordinance version of the Bill is also ready. We decided today that we would like to make one more effort to ask the opposition parties whether they will cooperate in passing the Bill in a special session of Parliament," Chidambaram said after the Cabinet meeting.

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