By Shivaji Sarkar
The people need to reject the bill that would never ensure any food security. They need to call upon the rulers to act to put prices under check, rupee and confidence of the nation at a high and desist from petty politicking. The bill signifies that India’s leadership is stuck in indecision and ideological confusion. The country is ignoring that 30 million children are out of school despite Right to Education Act. Economic Survey of 2009-10 notes that consumption by the bottom 50 per cent of the population is declining.
The Food Security Bill is more political than practical. It is a confession of inability to contain high food prices, which has increased by over 30 per cent during the last three years.
It is an admission that people do not have access to food despite continuous production of over 230 million tonne food grain for the last over three years. It is also strange that despite no shortage of food items, even onion, prices remain uncontrolled. If prices are made affordable, this bill would become redundant.
The bill is a testimony of deficit in governance and lack of vision
It has come at a time when another crash of confidence looks at the nation in the crash of the rupee that has touched the low of Rs 54 to a dollar.
The bill that takes the high moral ground of providing food to the “deprived” is a pointer to governance deficit and lack of vision. It is evident in its approach for cereal-based food security as it was at the initiation of the Green Revolution in 1970s. The country has remained morphed for all these years. The progress seems euphemism.
The food is a necessity for all. Even the slightly better off are finding it difficult to have it. Home budgets are crashing all over the country as food of all sorts going beyond the reach of average Indian, who may not be classified as below poverty line but most of them, even many from the middle class, would be just on its edge.
High food prices and illogical tax rates are impoverishing many Indians. It has caused a spurt in the cost of maintaining the minimum living standards. Their failure to afford most of the necessary goods has led to a crash of industrial production. Growth is turning negative.
Despite repeated cries of inability to contain the prices by the Finance Minister because he does not have a magic wand, even the minimum administrative and legal steps (under Essential Commodities Act) were not taken to check the rising prices of food items – food grain, pulses, sugar, vegetables, onions, milk or fruits. Price of sugar has more than doubled and the prices of wheat, dal, vegetables have increased three times.
Medicines have become doubly expensive
The bill overlooks the fact the country does not have the capacity to pay Rs 90,000 crore each year to pay for a dream that would not become a reality. In fact, if the states’ share is included the figure reaches Rs 1.5 lakh crore a year.
As farm lands shrink and more corporate get into the area with policy changes like Land Acquisition Bill, FDI in retail and similar other policies, the country is paving ways for massive subsidy payments—Rs 1.5 lakh crore a year as of now—that would enrich the giant multi-national and some domestic corporations. Yes, the food bill for the “deprived” is a cash cow of the future for the corporate. This is how many of these corporates have pocketed huge farm subsidies in the US and Europe while their governments were pauperised.
It does not take into account the actual number of poor who would benefit except stating that 75 per cent of the rural population and 50 per cent of the urban population would be covered.
The bill indirectly admits that on an average 65 per cent of the people are living in abysmal conditions and cannot buy the bare essentials despite a Planning Commission assessment that average urban poor needs Rs 32 and rural poor Rs 26 a day to survive. One of the Planning Commission’s assessment puts the number of poor at 78 crore.
Each year 61 million tonnes have to procured to maintain the supply chain. Demand to grow with as population increases but supplies may fall short as farm lands are being diverted for other use.
It does not take into account the problems of public distribution system (PDS) in most states.
The PDS is a state subject so it could become the whipping boy in politically inconvenient states. All the same there would be challenges in several states where governments already provide wider coverage of PDS.
Economic advisors of the government say high inflation points towards people eating healthier food and better life styles. They cite this as the main reason for increase in the prices of vegetable, eggs, fish and dairy items. “High prices are the worst form of taxation on the poorest of the poor”, says Ashok Gulati, Asia Director of the International Food Policy Research Institute.
The food bill is an attempt to divert the attention of the people from the crises that have engulfed this country. It is just not food. The rising price of medicines and health care are hitting not only the poor but everybody badly. The ambit of price control has shrunk. Of the 74 bulk drugs that were placed in the 1995 national list of essential medicines (NLEM) only 47 are produced now and only 34 are in the price control list.
Corruption is not limited to Anna Hazare’s list. It has subtly been spread to make many of these legalised. The dilution of the Land Acquisition Act to deprive the farmer of his rights is a blatant example how the government works under the pressures of the corporates. The corporates have their lobbyists in the government in bureaucrats. The decisions are not being taken by political wizards but bureaucrats have become the policy makers with an eye on post-retirement political career.
As farm lands shrink it would not be long when food grain production, which is stagnating, would start falling. To fulfil a legalised entitlement, the governments would have to increase subsidy payments benefiting suppliers, who in the days to come would be from the corporate world.
The bill signifies that India’s leadership is stuck in indecision and ideological confusion. The country is ignoring that 30 million children are out of school despite Right to Education Act. Economic survey of 2009-10 notes that consumption by the bottom 50 per cent of the population is declining.
There is no attempt to address these. Many children cannot go to school because their parents do not have jobs. They cannot consume so malnutrition is on the rise. Most of these problems have links with high unaffordable prices.
But controlling prices by the ruling combine is an unwarranted proposition. It might reduce their party kitties as donations would shrink.
If the government is so keen on ensuring food for all, it does not need a law to splatter it on its show window. It needs to show its fangs to the offender trading corporate and other organised mafia. It has to bring down the prices.
If it is keen on giving subsidies on food front, it should give it directly to producer farmer. It cannot be hippocratic on cutting subsidies and then giving it to the powerful lobbies.
Of late, health, education and employment (MNREGA) has become rights. But the functioning of the government has led to denials.
The state failure had its consequences. More it failed the more was a clamour to “privatise”.
The solution to every problem was privatisation. If the state cannot provide security, have your own security guard; if it does not generate power, have your captive power plant, if government hospitals do not work, go to a private expensive unaffordable one; if state schools do not work, go to expensive private schools.
The Food Security Bill aims at putting a coloured glass on all to divert the attention from these failures. It is not a solution as it does not have the mechanism to deliver. It may pave way for pilfering government funds in a “legalised official manner”.
The people need to reject the bill that would never ensure any food security. They need to call upon the rulers to act to put prices under check, rupee and confidence of the nation at a high and desist from petty politicking.