A day before Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar skipped a Cabinet meeting to register his protest against the Congress ignoring the NCP’s views in policy matters, he had found himself waging a lone battle against a revised proposal of the national food security Bill.
The new proposal seeks to have a blanket provision to provide 25 kg highly subsidised foodgrain to a family of five per month, covering 67 per cent of the population. Pawar was the lone voice to argue that not only was this bad economics, but regressive as well as it did not entail concomitant investment in farm infrastructure.
The new proposal seeks to meet the suggestions by some current and a few former members of the National Advisory Council headed by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.
Pawar, who had flagged off his reservations over the food guarantee law in a letter to PM Manmohan Singh in July last year, reiterated the same at the high-level meeting of the Cabinet that was attended by Defence Minister A K Antony, Home Minister P Chidambaram and Food Minister K V Thomas.
Pawar talked about the sustainability of the subsidy burden as well as the legally binding requirement of annual procurement of over 62 million tonnes, and its adverse impact on the domestic grain market. The legally binding annual food subsidy burden would be over Rs 1.18 lakh crore.
Thomas, however, was learnt to have brushed aside his concerns, instead saying that the revisions needed to procure over 62 million tonnes of annual foodgrain could be pushed through. “Then we do not even need a PDS,” Thomas retorted at one point, sources said.
Pawar reportedly did not find any help from the politicians present either. Chidambaram raised the government’s political commitment to enact a food guarantee law, while Antony backed the revisions proposed by Thomas.
Sources, however, said Wednesday’s meeting had nothing to do with Pawar’s absence from the Cabinet on Thursday, and that the NCP’s sense of feeling ignored had been festering for long.
BJP takes dig at Cong
The BJP seized on the strains between the Congress and the NCP as an opportunity to hit out at the ruling party, accusing it of being “arrogant” and not paying attention to the voters. “The Congress does not listen to the voters, does not listen to its own ministers, or its allies or even the Opposition. It has betrayed and let down everybody,” said BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar.