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Cabinet approves food security ordinance

The union cabinet has approved the food security ordinance, Food Minister K.V. Thomas said Wednesday. The bill aims to provide subsidised food grain to around 67 percent of India's 1.2 billion people. Around 800 million people would thus get the subsidised food grain at an initial cost of around Rs.1.3 lakh crore.

"The cabinet approved the food security ordinance unanimously," Thomas told reporters after the cabinet meeting.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh chaired the cabinet meeting.

The ordinance will now go to President Pranab Mukherjee and will be promulgated after his approval.

It will then have to be ratified by both houses of parliament within six weeks of the commencement of the next session.

The government may go in for a special session of parliament to ratify the ordinance, said informed sources.

The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government chose the ordinance route to effect the National Food Security Bill, which is held up in parliament. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) did not allow parliament to debate the bill during the budget session that ended May 8 and sought the prime minister's resignation over faulty coal blocks allocations.

But the government had a tough time managing reservations against the bill within the UPA as Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar wanted it to be debated in parliament rather than be implemented through an ordinance.

He also had reservations related to the huge subsidy involved and the interest of farmers.

Government sources said Pawar is on board now.

A proposal to consider the ordinance route was earlier deferred by Manmohan Singh June 13 as the government faced opposition from allies and opposition parties like the Samajwadi Party, the Left and Pawar.

The bill, a pet project of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, is seen as a big-ticket legislation of the UPA government and could prove to be a game-changer ahead of the 2014 general elections.