It has become a ritual of sorts to create an uproar in the parliament over any “contentious” legislation. Even if we were to believe that the parliament is meant to serve the “functioning democracy” they say is in place in India, we should expect a semblance of effort to carry out the duties of discussing and debating important legislation like the Food Security Bill, which will cover up to 75% of rural and 50% of urban population. To any serious observer of Indian politics, it must have become quite clear by now that the parties like Congress and BJP are quite united in their efforts to bring in laws that help the corporations and launch an onslaught on the rights of the common wo/man. Whether it is the coal scam or the 2G scam or the Commonwealth Games scam, all the parties engage in a full pitched drama, by throwing chairs, mouthing slogans and creating the most amazing scenes that you could possibly imagine inside the premises of an institution that is meant to be the legislative supremo.
The reason why they do this is pretty simple – each of these parties are corrupt to the core and none of them have any interest in carrying out serious discussions on bills and legislation like the Right to Food, Right to Information, the BRAI act, Right to Education Act etc. Both the Congress and the BJP have given the corporates every reason to cheer, thanks to their romance with neo liberal policies. The latest Food Security Bill has actually reduced the entitlement of grains from 7Kg to 5Kg per capita per month. This has naturally enraged many activists and informed observers alike. Not only that, collective efforts like the Right to Food Campaign and human rights organizations like PUCL (People’s Union of Civil Liberties) have pointed out legitimately that huge quantities of food grains are rotting in the FCI (Food Corporation of India) godowns instead of being distributed among the huge number of poor and hungry.
The Right to Food Campaign and more so the different left parties’ brigade are of course much more comprehensive in their demands for a universal and holistic approach towards providing food security. They have carefully defined food security so as to include infrastructural prerequisites associated with food security. For example, livelihood security and equitable access to resources like land, water, minerals and forests and adequate measures for proper health, education and social equality are inherent to ensuring food security. Instead, as this article from First Post suggests, the pro neo liberals are busy lambasting the proposed law because it will cost the government so many crores, adding to fiscal deficit, triggering inflation and what not. Yet, they seem to have no problems when huge amounts of corporate taxes are left unpaid. P. Sainth’s work on corporate revenue foregone is a good reference in this context.
Only recently, the CobraPost sting operation revealed (or rather reaffirmed) how the number of people who earn over a crore (or 10 million) bucks a year is certainly more, as many such crorepatis don’t bother clearing the tax dues. The private banks help these high net worth individuals by protecting their accounts having huge amounts of unaccounted for wealth. Be it gold or insurance products, the banks help the corporations and rich individuals get away with robbing the government. Why are these neo liberals quiet about this corporate plunder? Or perhaps, they will invent innovative justifications for this as well.
Here are short rebuttals to some of the most prominent objections raised about the Food Security Bill:
1. There may be a shortage of food grains in some states due to over-procuring by government for its PDS (Public Distribution System). – Before we provide a rebuttal to this particular objection, let us look at two other but related “issues” being raised – that the bill wrongly emphasizes on food grains, when in fact ‘more and more’ Indians are shifting to more “protein based” diets, and secondly, that it would take too much resources to transfer from the high cereal surplus states like West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa to the deficit ones. Now assuming these people consider it necessary to ensure that everyone in the country gets properly fed (a bit hard to assume though!), it is obvious that if there are states where there is shortage of cereals, some mechanism must be there to either make the states more self sufficient or get them transported from other states. It is a well known fact that FCI godowns are overflowing with grain which rot and get wasted. But people like Sharad Pawar don’t want these to be distributed. Reason? It will cause an upward shift in supply, thereby lowering prices! The irony is that it is actually a critique of neo liberal or capitalist economy itself – which Marxists call the “anarchy” of economy, which allows room for such disorderliness.
2. They are also opposed to the fact that lot of resources will be required to procure grains from the farmers at minimum support price [MSP] and then distribute at subsidized rates through PDS. Moreover, they point out such a large scale distribution mechanism would require bigger infrastructural spending like storage and supply (transport). In this context, it must be remembered, just how abysmal the state of nutrition and health is in the country. The irony is that neo liberals have pointed this out in their own documents.
Despite buoyant economic growth in recent years, around one-third of India’s population, i.e 400 million people, still lives below the poverty line (in 2010) as per World Bank’s definition of USD 1.25/day. Using the multi-dimensional poverty index (MPI1) of UNDP, India ranks at 75 among 109 countries in 2011, much worse than the other BRIC countries2-indicating extent of deprivation in terms of living standards, health, and education. According to National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3) conducted in 2005-06, 20 per cent of Indian children under five years old were wasted (acutely malnourished) and 48 per cent were stunted (chronically malnourished). The HUNGaMA (Hunger and Malnutrition) Survey conducted by Nandi Foundation3 conducted across 112 rural districts of India in 2011 showed that 42 percent of children under five are underweight and 59 percent are stunted. All these estimates point to the existence of food insecurity at the micro-level in terms of either lack of economic access to food or lack of absorption of food for a healthy life.
3. They also are worried that if the government takes up the responsibility of providing food to the poor, then it will be eating into the profitable business set up by major corporations in the agricultural sector, including storage and supply chains. Clearly, the priority here is blatant – ensuring that everyone gets to eat as opposed to handsome profits for corporates.
4. That in times of drought there may be a shortage of grains due to such massive procurement – What sort of logic is this? Do they mean that people should go hungry just so that they don’t have to go hungry at a later date? How incredibly silly! Besides, if they are so concerned about people going hungry, why don’t they instead ask for better storage facilities or more public expenditures in agricultural sector, including irrigation, so that productivity increases and there is no fear of drought? Besides, where is their concern when speculators and MNCs in the agro business are directly responsible for causing food inflation?
5. That farmers being incentivized to buy grains, would stop growing other crops like vegetables, thereby playing havoc with the supply side of the same, shooting up prices. – The neo-liberals of all have to shoulder the blame for threatening bio-diversity, by advocating untested and potentially harmful technology like genetically modified crops (GMO) [the case of Bt Cotton being well known]. Such imbalances occur in the first place because of favoritism of policies towards rich capitalists instead of providing cushion to the farmers who genuinely need it.
- India: Comprehensive Food Security Law Can Eradicate Hunger (kractivist.wordpress.com)