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Approval of food security ordinance top priority: Congress

Indicating that getting the food security ordinance approved in parliament was the UPA's top priority, the government tabled the document in the Lok Sabha Monday, on day one of the monsoon session.

"The food security bill is our top priority. We want all the parties to support it. We hope this session is better than past few ones," Congress spokesperson Meem Afzal later told reporters.

Amid the din in the lower house, Food Minister K.V. Thomas tabled the ordinance to intimate the house that when it was not in session, the government had brought in the measure through decree.

Thomas said the government was already procuring an average 60.2 million tonnes of grains in the past four years and would have no difficulty in managing the 61.2 million tonnes needed for the ordinance.

The ordinance is expected to be taken up for consideration and passing by first the Lok Sabha and then the Rajya Sabha this week, said informed sources.

The government is expected to withdraw the existing Food Security Bill, which could not be passed in the budget session of parliament, as the BJP did not allow the house to run demanding Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's resignation over faulty allocations of coal blocks, said the sources.

The ordinance, which would then become a bill, would then be taken up Wednesday, said the sources.

The Business Advisory Committee of the lower house, which met here Monday, agreed to allocate around six hours to the debate on the Food Security Bill, said the sources.

The bill, expected to be a game changer for the ruling Congress ahead of five assembly polls this year-end and the national elections in 2014, aims to provide subsidised grains at prices much below the market rate to around 67 percent of India's 1.2 billion people, numbering around 800 million.

The bill, costing around Rs.1,24,723 crore to the government initially, will bring an additional burden of Rs.23,800 crore, the Congress has said.

The bill, part of Congress manifesto in 2009 polls, is expected to bring electoral benefits just as the rural job plan, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, brought in 2009.

Several Congress-ruled states, including poll-bound Delhi, Haryana and Assam, have said they will launch the subsidised grains scheme Aug 20, the birth anniversary of late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

The bill was first introduced in parliament in December 2011 and remained with the standing committee for a year, before it was taken to the Lok Sabha for consideration and passage in the budget session that ended May 8.