New Delhi, Jun 4 : The Union Cabinet today deferred the Food Security Ordinance, with no discussion taking place.
"I cannot answer questions on what was not taken up by the Cabinet," Finance Minister P Chidambaram told reporters after the meeting when repeatedly asked about the Food Security Bill which is before Parliament.
"Food Security Bill was not brought before Cabinet. It is before Parliament," he insisted.
Suspense mounted over whether the government will promulgate an Ordinance on Food Security as it appeared hesitant to take this route amidst differences within the Cabinet as well as opposition from some allies and other parties.
The government is keen on enacting this landmark law at the earliest but there are voices within it who disfavour the Ordinance route.
The bill, a pet project of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, seeks to provide legal rights to 67 per cent of the population over a uniform quantity of 5 kg foodgrains at a fixed price of Rs 1-3 per kg through ration shops.
There was speculation that the proposal to promulgate the Ordinance could be taken up at the meeting of the Union Cabinet this evening but no such discussion took place.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari said Congress was committed to provide food security to 80 crore Indians.
"What will be its format and procedure are being decided. It is in the process. All options are open before the government in this regard," he said.
Sources said the Law Ministry has approved the Ordinance route but the Food Ministry, which is the nodal ministry for the Bill, was not in favour of this. Some others were also not supportive of this idea.
Making this clear, Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh said, "Ordinance should be the last resort."
NCP leader and Union Minister Praful Patel said his party was "101 per cent" with the Bill and unnecessary controversy was being stoked about the party's stand.
He said NCP was for farmers getting good price for their produce and the poor getting cheap foodgrains.
"NCP would like to make it very clear that it fully supports the Bill in its present form," Patel said.
Asked whether the government would convene a special session of Parliament to get the Bill passed or advance the monsoon session due next month, Chidambaram said "either or both. These is all speculation".
The apparent hesitation in the government to go for Ordinance comes against the backdrop of Opposition by UPA's crucial outside supporter Samajwadi Party.
NCP chief Sharad Pawar had earlier also told Left parties that they should insist on a discussion on the crucial legislation.
BJP has also voiced its opposition to the promulgation of the Ordinance saying the provision should be adopted only under extraordinary circumstances.
"The government should not promulgate an ordinance for National Food Security Bill. We are opposed to the ordinance route for such an important legislation. The government should not be stubborn," Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj tweeted even as the Cabinet meeting was on.
Meanwhile, JD-U also opposed the Congress move to call a special session of Parliament to pass the Food Security Bill or bring an ordinance.
JD-U President Sharad Yadav said his party "totally rejects" the Ordinance route for the Food Security Bill.
Attacking BJP on its stand on the Bill, Chidambaram wondered "where were these indignant voices when the Bill was before Parliament. Why was it not allowed to be taken up in Parliament by the Opposition."
BJP has maintained that it supported the need for a Food Security Act, but certain provisions of the pending Bill on the issue need to be amended.
BJP spokesperson Abhimanyu said legislation was the "exclusive jurisdiction and responsibility of Parliament" and ordinance should be resorted to only during "exigencies and emergencies."
He said the party was more concerned about the well-being of farmers than the Congress which "pretends" to do so.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee too had questioned the need for an Ordinance when the general election was "knocking at the door".
"Will this be the right time for the UPA government to rush through and legislate on a major issue like the proposed Food Security Bill, particularly when the general election is knocking at the door and that too, without a full-fledged implementation mechanism in place," she asked.
CPI-M leader Brinda Karat had opposed the bill in its present form and demanded that the amendments moved by them should be "seriously" considered by the government.
CPI leader D Raja had also opposed the idea of bringing an ordinance on food security and said the legislation in its present form is "defective and unacceptable".