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Coal fire musn’t scorch food bill

As the BJP and Congress play cat and mouse game over the rupee slide and missing Coalgate files in Parliament, the resultant paralysis must not ultimately derail the food security express. Even though the House has been adjourned till Thursday, the Food Bill should be guarded from the blazing fires emanating from the Opposition, which, despite having promised to cooperate over the passage of the bill, has been, justifiably enough, stalling Parliament, demanding the whereabouts of the 257 missing files pertaining to the dodgy coal block allocations from 1993 to 2009. Clarion calls aimed at Manmohan Singh to answer for the government’s staggering failures have fallen on to deaf ears, and in the wake of the latest irregularity, the Opposition has made it a mission of sort to extricate the files, even if that amounted to creating hurdles in the passage of the UPA’s flagship food security bill. Clearly, the quandary in Parliament over how to proceed productively without letting the UPA off the hook on the gigantic coal scam, is the question of the hour. While the CBI’s request to be granted access to the files should be heeded immediately, the Opposition should refrain from playing with the fate of the food bill that promises to provide few morsels more to millions of India’s poor.

Although the food bill has been rolled out in the Congress-ruled states, Delhi included, it must not end up becoming an election gimmick that would be withdrawn after the upcoming assembly polls and next year’s general elections. The Food Bill aims to provide highly subsidised food grains to nearly 70 per cent of India’s population, and despite the Planning Commission’s claim that poverty has been substantially reduced over the last seven years, the country still grapples with confounding levels of squalor and degradation. So, even though the Congress is counting the food security scheme as a vote-catching poll-plank in the assembly and national elections, the Bill’s fate now stands in balance if it doesn’t bag Parliament’s approval before this monsoon session ends on 30 August. The political conundrum over how to work out a feasible plan that would unearth the Coalgate files as well as ensure the passage of the food bill is something that all the parties have to figure out together, as a divided House and continuing with the politics of obstructionism would not lead to any agreeable solution. The importance of having the food security scheme in place is way too big to be squandered away at the altar of political factionalism, because giving food to the hungry and undernourished is a fundamental duty of any civilised government. Corruption and possible leakage, or the charge that the public distribution system in India is woefully inadequate to support and ensure proper implementation of the bill, must not be the mislaid premise over which the significance of the scheme is lost out. 

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