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UPA II fast-tracks food and land bills
KOTA NEELIMA  24th Jul 2011

Newly appointed Indian ministers pose for pictures at the presidential palace in New Delhi. REUTERS

he UPA II government, uncertain whether it will be able to last out its full term till 2014, has slipped into election-mode by fast-tracking flagship legislations on food security and land acquisition, in the hope of reaping electoral rewards on the lines of NREGS during its last tenure.

The dissolving differences between the government and the National Advisory Council on the contours of these bills point to the new urgency in the Congress to get on with its major manifesto promises ahead of a series of important state elections, including Uttar Pradesh, the results of which may change the prospects of the UPA coalition.

The NAC, led by party president Sonia Gandhi, had drafted both the bills and submitted to the government. Since the Cabinet reshuffle on 12 July, which the Prime Minister had declared to be the last one before the general elections, consultations have intensified in Ministries of Food and Rural Development to finalise these two legislations. The government plans to introduce the bills in the Monsoon Session of Parliament beginning from 1 August.

Ending the face-off between the government and NAC on the new land acquisition bill, the Ministry of Rural Development is learnt to have adopted most of NAC's proposals and even improved upon some of them. The draft bill may favour seeking the consent of 80% of the project affected people for land acquisition, while the NAC had recommended 70%. The bill may seek employment for the people on whose lands the projects are implemented and stipulate that land should be provided to those displaced due to irrigation projects. There may also be special emphasis on protecting rights of tribals and their rehabilitation.

The bill could be finalised on Sunday in a meeting between the officials of Rural Development, Planning Commission and members of the NAC involved in formulating the draft.

The other major legislation, the National Food Security Bill, was finalised last week by the Empowered Group of Ministers and is now set to go before the Union Cabinet for approval. The eGoM managed to produce a bill that is half-way between the proposals of the Prime Minister's expert committee and the NAC, both of which have been battling out the provisions.

For instance, the draft bill suggests that the APL (Above Poverty Line) entitlement per person per month should be 3 kg of food grain. While the NAC had suggested 4 kg, the expert committee had suggested 2 kg.

Secondly, the draft bill suggests a coverage of 75% of rural households, the NAC had suggested 90% and the expert committee 46%.

Thirdly, the draft bill provides for ration cards to be in the name of women members of the priority households, which is in tune with the NAC thrust on women empowerment.

However, not all of NAC's proposals have been accepted, including the crucial mechanism for grievance redressal, which could affect the implementation of the law.

Towing the Planning Commission's line, the draft bill offers the controversial option for cash transfers instead of food grain, a scheme riddled with problems of delivery in rural areas and vulnerable to misuse.

Closely associated with both bills, NAC member N.C. Saxena said, "It is good that the government is considering these programmes in the interest of the poor. It will go a long way in making sure that the high economic growth does not bypass the poor."

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