A debate over food, calories and costs

It’s rare to see Parliament function these days. But when it does, it isn’t an embarrassment. In the much-awaited debate on the Food Security Bill in the Lok Sabha, members marshaled statistics and formulated arguments to put across their party’s standpoint.

On the whole, it was an enriching experience for the listeners.

The beauty of it all was that speakers competed over improving the provisions of the Bill. The broad cross-party consensus in its favour did not deter them from seeking to show the law as a half step towards “fighting hunger.” The BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi focused on various aspects of the Bill to expose its soft underbelly in terms of past research and studies that prescribed quantities higher than the five kg per person monthly allocation of food grain the legislation promised.

“You cannot eradicate hunger by providing 166 gm food grain per day,” he declared to conclude: “It’s a vote security, not a food security legislation by the government that’s on its way out.”

The CPI and the SP had their own reservations against the Bill they wanted improved in terms of what it promised to the identified poor. They at once worried that farmers might be the eventual losers if the government sought to curtail expenses by putting a freeze on minimum support price for food grains.

The answer Congress president Sonia Gandhi had for the skeptics was that the initiative has to be taken forward, regardless of the pitfalls. If the PDS isn’t effective, it has to be improved; resources if scarce have to be organized.

The moral of it all was that legislation making can only be perfected through debates, not arrogant walkouts or boycott of proceedings. Public money must be spent with caution that can only come when Parliament does its job of keeping a watch on the government, question it for the faults and make it accountable for costly or graft-driven lapses.

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