Food Minister KV Thomas on Wednesday told CNN-IBN that the government wanted to give a signal that it was serious about the ambitious Food Security Bill when asked whether promulgating an ordinance was the democratic way of enacting the UPA's game changing legislation, that envisions the right to food.
Thomas also said that the tenure of the present government is limited to ten months and therefore, it is important to start the work on the promised legislation on the ground if it is expected to deliver.
But is an ordinance on the right to food politically wise or is it a political gamble? What if the ordinance lapses? CNN-IBN's Rupashree Nanda spoke to the minister to get some answers. Below is the transcript of the interview.
CNN-IBN: The Food ordinance has finally been listed in the Cabinet tomorrow for discussion and passing. Are we to believe that the political call to take the ordinance route for the Food Bill has been taken?
KV Thomas: This is a very important legislation on which now the ordinance is coming and naturally discussions have been made at different levels and there is a consensus. So, tomorrow it is coming in the Cabinet and the Cabinet will take a decision on that.
CNN-IBN: Since you have said that there is a consensus, are we to believe that the Cabinet is merely going to give its formal approval to the ordinance now?
KV Thomas: You know the Cabinet procedure. This is before the Cabinet, it is the highest body in the country. It will be discussed there but naturally before it came to the Cabinet, there has been discussions at different levels. Only after tomorrow's Cabinet meet, I'll be able to say anything on that.
CNN-IBN: How will you answer the opposition? Even today, the BJP has said that we are ready to discuss the bill and many opposition parties are actually saying that the government should not take the ordinance route and that they are ready for discussion in Parliament - if necessary, advance the monsoon session, convene a special session - they are ready for that. So why this urgency and what will you tell the opposition?
KV Thomas: You have seen... The last two sessions, even the question hour was not allowed to begin. That was quite a sad situation because never in the history of Indian Parliament was question hour obstructed because that is the property of the members. So that is one of the reasons why we decided after lot of discussions, let us start the process of ordinance. Naturally, this will go to Parliament, there will be discussions in Parliament also. But, we have got two months' time before Parliament starts. So we can start with some procedures connected with the bill, like grievance redressal forums. That will have to be done in advance. Those things we can start now. Definitely, this will be going to Parliament when Parliament starts. So, everybody will be getting an opportunity.
CNN-IBN: The opposition is basically resisting the passage of the bill through an ordinance? You are short circuiting the democratic process?
KV Thomas: You have seen what happens in Parliament. In two sessions, the question hour was not allowed to function, forget about the Food Security Bill. I introduced it in the House twice - it was not allowed. So we have to go ahead now. It does not mean that it will not be discussed in Parliament. It will definitely be discussed in Parliament. It is the procedure. Why should they worry about it? If they want to pass the bill, they are getting a chance. I am just having an ordinance so that some important steps can go ahead. Why should I waste about two months of time. This government has got maximum about ten months' time. That is the tenure of the government. So let us go ahead with this important bill. Every party is very serious about it. Let us discuss in Parliament. Now let us start discussion.
CNN-IBN: Are you pushing the opposition to the wall? Because if they do not support the ordinance, the bill, when it is re-introduced in Parliament when it reconvenes, they have no choice but to support? You can show that you tried your best. Is that the democratic way?
KV Thomas: You have seen what democracy happened in Parliament. When there is an opposition who will not allow the House to be run, even the question hour - then naturally the government has to move ahead. We have got a mandate from the people of this country that we should pass this important legislation. So this is one of the steps of going ahead. We want to give a signal that we are serious about it.
CNN-IBN: When the ordinance is promulgated, do the provisions come into force immediately?
KV Thomas: There is routine procedure. As per the ordinance rules, it is immediately. But there are some clauses being put. Very comfortable time for the states to implement it.
CNN-IBN: When the President signs the ordinance, it is not as if everybody gets their entitlements the very next day?
KV Thomas: It takes its own time. That clause will be in the ordinance, naturally. In the original bill it was one year. Here it may be slightly short time. It will be decided by the Cabinet.
CNN-IBN: You are also giving the signal that the Congress party is desperate. Now that it has allies that it cannot depend upon and it has very little to show when elections come, you are showing political desperation.
KV Thomas: You may remember, in 2009 precisely on the 4th of June when the then President made this commitment of food security to the people of this country. It was not a political gimmick. We are serious about it. Last four and half years, we were working on that. We want to tell the people of this country that we are serious about it. We have brought the RTI Act, we have brought the Right to Education, we have brought the Right to Employment. Who else has done it? Is it all through political gimmicks?
CNN-IBN: But those were not through ordinances?
KV Thomas: No, no, because that time discussions took place in the House. I have been here from 1984 onwards. I have never seen question hours being disrupted.
CNN-IBN: Maybe if you had given the opposition a chance...
KV Thomas: How many chances? They will again get a chance.
CNN-IBN: How are you going to prove urgency?
KV Thomas: No no, that is a different question. We are going through a democratic procedure. I am very confident we will go ahead with this.
CNN-IBN: Is it a political calculation for you - once food is on the table of your voter, and cash is in the bank account through Direct cash Transfers, then perhaps people are going to forget scams and perhaps vote for the Congress party. It is as simple as that?
KV Thomas: The people of the country are very intelligent. Many a times they have shown their integrity. They know what the Congress has done.
CNN-IBN: Are your allies on board? Is Sharad Pawar on board?
KV Thomas: We are together. The UPA is together. Where is the doubt?
CNN-IBN: As the Food Minister, what is the political risk associated with it? What if Parliament is prorogued?
KV Thomas: If the opposition parties are serious, let them come to Parliament. Let them discuss at that point of time and take a decision.
CNN-IBN: What if it lapses?
KV Thomas: Why should we think about it? Why should you take two sides? Let us take only one side. There is an ordinance because we have to start in advance. It is going to Parliament. It is something continuous to the bill that we have presented. Everything is there as it is in the bill. So let us be positive.