Congress chief Sonia Gandhi's pet welfare measure, the food security programme was Monday launched in three party ruled northern states - Delhi, Haryana and Uttarakhand - even as the bill could not be taken up in parliament with the BJP disrupting the proceedings on its demands regarding alleged irregularity in coal block allocations.
The government's hopes to pass the bill in the lower house Aug 20, the birth anniversary of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, were belied as the Congress managers failed to gauge the opposition strategy.
However, Sonia Gandhi, while launching the rights-based ambitious food scheme in Delhi, described it as "unparalleled in the world". Delhi is among the first states to roll out the programme after the government got the president to approve an ordinance in June.
"We decided to formulate food security bill so that the poor do not remain hungry, their children do not sleep hungry and they do not suffer malnutrition," Sonia Gandhi said at Talkatora Stadium here.
"The guarantee of food provided by food security scheme on such a large scale is unparalleled in the world," she said in her speech beamed live by TV channels.
She gave away food security ration cards to women beneficiaries along with a 5 kg packet of rice.
Speaking at the function, Food Minister K.V. Thomas accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of delaying the passage of food security bill in parliament.
The BJP did not let the Lok Sabha function over its demand for the prime minister's statement on missing files related to controversial coal block allocations.
The party was dissatisfied over the statement of Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal made in the Rajya Sabha over the missing files on an issue that was being probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for alleged irregularities.
Though the BJP did not say it was opposed to the bill, party spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said they will not give up the demand for the prime minister's statement on the "missing files".
The "missing files" pertain to decisions taken at various levels in the coal allocations where the opposition alleges large-scale corruption at ministerial levels.
Congress managers hope the bill will be passed in the current parliament session, saying there still were three working days left in the week and four in the next.
"We will be trying our level best to get the food bill passed. We are talking to everybody (all political parties)," Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajeev Shukla told reporters.
Congress managers said if the opposition deliberately blocks the food bill, they will go directly to the people and explain things to them as to who had opposed this legislation.
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has said it will support the bill and the Samajwadi Party has given conditional support, saying that its amendments should be accepted.
BSP supremo Mayawati said: "We support the bill as it is for the poor, but we want certain changes for which we will move amendments."
The Food Security Bill - seen as both a major welfare as well as populist move designed to swing votes for a beleaguered Congress in upcoming elections - aims to provide subsidised foodgrain at prices much below the market rate to around 67 percent of India's 1.2 billion people. The bill is expected to benefit about 800 million people.
The party is hoping that the bill, which was a part of the Congress manifesto for the 2009 polls, will bring electoral benefits just as the rural job plan, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, is credited with swinging the party's victory in the 2009 polls.
The bill will cost the government around Rs.124,723 crore, the Congress has said.
The bill was first introduced in parliament in December 2011. It remained with a standing committee for a year, before it was taken to the Lok Sabha for consideration and passing in the budget session that ended May 8.
In the national capital, the bill will provide benefits to 3.2 million people in the first phase and later cover 4.1 million people. It will come into effect Sep 1 in Delhi and the beneficiaries will be get a fixed amount of foodgrain at Rs.3 a kg for rice and Rs.2 a kg for wheat.
Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna launched the food security programme in their states. More Congress ruled states are slated to launch the programme in the coming days.