"Food Bill passed unanimously... Process of consultation with states has started," Food Minister KV Thomas told NDTV after the vote in the Rajya Sabha on Monday night.
After the Rajya Sabha passed the bill, the BJP attacked the government saying it has made a "half-hearted" attempt and the shortcomings will be rectified if it comes to power. "Elections are around and that is why they have brought the bill at this time," senior BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu said.
All the amendments moved by the opposition to the bill were rejected. Some amendments, like the one moved by Samajwadi Party member Naresh Agrawal, were withdrawn while some members including Mr Naidu and Prakash Javadekar did not press for their amendments.
Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley offered a scathing critique of the government's motivation behind the bill, calling it "a repackaging of existing food schemes." "What was the dire emergency to abuse constitutional powers and bring an ordinance?" he said.
In a rare speech while opening the debate in Lok Sabha last week, Sonia Gandhi had urged Parliament to take a "historic step" by passing the bill. She, however, couldn't vote on it as she was taken ill and had to be escorted to hospital. Today, as the Rajya Sabha passed the bill she championed, Ms Gandhi was on her way to the US for her medical check-up.
The Food Security Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha on August 26. The landmark bill, aimed at providing rice at Rs. 3 per kg, wheat at Rs. 2 per kg and coarse cereal at Re 1 per kg to almost 800 million Indians, is expected to cost the national exchequer Rs. 1.25 lakh crore.
Amid concerns that the country's fragile economy may not bear the burden of the food scheme, Finance Minister P Chidambaram assured last week that the government will not spend more than the Rs. 90,000 crore already budgeted to fund the programme.
The scheme will depend on an inefficient national network of public granaries, transporters and 500,000 ration shops. One widely quoted study published in 2005 by the Planning Commission found that 58 percent of grains in the Public Distribution System (PDS) failed to reach their intended destinations.
The UPA government in July passed the food security ordinance which was adopted by a few Congress-ruled states on August 20, birth anniversary of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
The bill now needs the presidential assent to become a historic law. The scheme is expected to deliver high returns for the ruling Congress, as similar populist schemes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS) and loan waiver to farmers did in the last election.