भारतीय कम्युनिस्ट पार्टी का प्रकाशन पार्टी जीवन पाक्षिक वार्षिक मूल्य : 70 रुपये; त्रैवार्षिक : 200 रुपये; आजीवन 1200 रुपये पार्टी के सभी सदस्यों, शुभचिंतको से अनुरोध है कि पार्टी जीवन का सदस्य अवश्य बने संपादक: डॉक्टर गिरीश; कार्यकारी संपादक: प्रदीप तिवारी

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Communist Party of India, U.P. State Council

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गुरुवार, 25 फ़रवरी 2010


  • The question of food security is being hotly discussed among wide circles of people. A series of national and international conferences, seminars and meetings convened by the Food and Agricultural Organisations (FAO) and other agencies are being held to find an answer to this question.

    It is wellknown that a large section of people in India do not have regular access to food. Statisticians have calculated that 35 per cent of Indians are food insecure, and that nearly half of the world’s hungry are in India. The issue of food security tops the agenda of all those who are genuinely concerned with the life of impoverished and hungry mass of people in our country, and who do not regard hunger and starvation among them a ‘natural order’ of things. Such people think government has an obligation to feed the hungry.

    The concept of Food Security in simple terms means that everyone in the country should have sufficient food with the required nutritional value and at affordable prices. Sky rocketing prices of basic food items these days have made it difficult not only for the poor but even for sections of the middle class. Price and availability of food are interlinked.

    The Government is proposing to legislate a Food Security Act which will make it legally binding to provide food for the people. It is reported that an Empowered Group of Ministers has been set up to formulate the scheme to be implemented under proposed act. The first and the most basic requirement of food security viz. increasing food productivity and production in a country with a growing population is however not being addressed.

    Indian agriculture suffers from low productivity. Beside this there is a steady decline in the extent of land under food production. There is lack of incentives to the farmer who is the key player in producting the food that the country needs, in terms of cheap and subsidised inputs and remunerative prices for his ultimate produce. Instead, government is proposing to introduce a new pricing policy for fertilizers, of nutrient-based subsidy with an open maximum retail price (MRP), as a step towards total decontrol which will only raise the prices of fertilizers. It is already thinking of raising the prices of diesel and petrol. There is hardly any insurance against crop failures due to natural and other calamities. The implementation of land reforms has been very tardy in large areas of the country even after six decades of freedom. Rather than distributing land it is depriving farmers of fertile land under one plea or the other. There has been low pace of investment in agriculture for irrigation, for R&D, for improved seeds and so forth.

    Recently there was an important meeting in Delhi to discuss how to feed the hungry growing population with climate change knocking at the door. The Norwegian Minister of Food and Agriculture, Mr. Lars Pedder Brekke who had come to attend this meeting had some very interesting observations to make in the course of an interview to Hindu daily. He observed, “The main instrument for global food security is national food production. Every country has an obligation to provide food for its own population. Trade alone cannot solve the fundamental challenges regarding hunger”.

    To that end he stated, Norway’s farmers are heavily subsidized through a lengthy consultation process between government and farmers corporatives that takes place each year,−a policy instrument that is being rolled back under WTO liberalisation agreements “We know we will be challenged by international companies. They have patented their products and want to sell them in Norway”, he said. “But who do you want to lead the market? Is it in the production around the country or is it in the hands of one big company” he asked.

    It is not our intention to compare Norway with India. Conditions are vastly different, but the questions raised are very pertinent. One can ask similar questions with regard to food production and food security in India. We have to grow the food that we need, depending upon our Agriculture and not rely on food imports and the ‘patented products’ of one or more international companies.

    For a country as big as India, with population already exceeding 120 crores, food sovereignty is extremely important. We cannot afford to be subjected to financial and political pressure. Food imports is a political question, besides being extremely costly. The main food exporting country, the USA, as we know uses food as a political weapon.

    Let us see what the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGOM) is thinking of doing on the issue of food security. According to reports the EGOM is thinking of proposing that only families below the poverty line are to be provided with subsidized food under the food security act. Families Above the Poverty Line (APL) may not be included under the ambit of the proposed act. The argument is that this will reduce the burden on the exchequer. But this will be at the cost of providing food security to all Indians. It means there will be no legal binding to ensure food security for all.

    It is calculated that funding subsidy to only 8.54 crore BPL families under the Planning Commission guidelines would entail a cost of Rs. 45,000 crores, while if 13.26 crore additional APL families are also included the total expenditure on subsidy would probably add upto Rs. 1,00,000 crores. (This figure appears to be on the high side only to terrify certain sections).

    The government of course has no hesitation in giving tax exemptions or capping the rate of direct tax for corporates and individuals who are in the topmost income brackets which ultimately means foregoing a high figure of revenue income; or offering them a huge bail-out or of stimulus package in order to overcome a crisis of their own making. But it finds no resources when it comes to saving the poor, indigent and valunerable sections from hunger and starvation. This is nothing but a reflection of the class outlook of government.

    Who are the poor and how many are to be identified as being below the poverty line?

    The EGOM requires all states to adhere to the Planning Commission estimate of BPL families, viz. 27 per cent. This arbitrary, unscientific and unreal estimate is challenged by a number of Expert Committees set up by the very same government. Thus:

    The Suresh Tendulkar Committee has estimated the BPL populace at 38%.

    The Expert Committee headed by N.C. Saxena set up by the Ministry of Rural Development has put the figure at 50 per cent.

    The Arjun Sengupta report states that 77 per cent of Indian population lives on an average per capita consumption expenditure of Rs. 16 a day as in the year 2004-05.

    Since then prices have soared and more people find it difficult to access the food that they need. Why then should the government ignore the findings of several expert committees and choose only the lowest estimate? Does this show a real political will to ensure food security for all our people or is it another example of an insincere and hypocritical attempt to dupe the common people?

    In a situation where poverty prevails among very large sections of people the reasonable way is to implement an ‘inclusive’ scheme which brings all within its ambit rather than a scheme which excludes large sections. That is why the Left Parties are demanding a universal PDS which provides for distribution of essential commodities like wheat, rice, pulses, oil, sugar etc. at subsidised rate.

    Under the proposed law on food security the government guarantees only 24kgs. of foodgrains at Rs.3 per kg. To the families Below Poverty Line. Even today the government is supplying 35kgs. per month at Rs.2 a kg. In some states, notably Kerala and Tamilnadu rice is being supplied at Rs.1 a kg, in addition to certain other essential commodities. Therefore the proposed act would amount to cutting the quantity that is already being supplied today and hiking the price. Is this the way to guarantee food security or actually the opposite?

    It should be noted that for a BPL family of 5 members 25kg a month does not meet its entire needs. It has to purchase the balance in the open market at current price or forego it altogether and face hunger and starvation for some days in the month or manage somehow with its substitutes.

    The task therefore is to bring down the prices as a part of ensuring food security. That is why the Left is calling for banning future trading and speculation in foodgrains, oilseeds etc. which enable big business and corporates to buy up and hoard stocks. It is quite untrue that future trading helps the farmers, many of whom are actually forced to resort to distress sales. At the same time dehoarding drive has to be launched with the cooperation of the people to unearth stocks. Stocks with the government have to be used for market intervention with a view to bring down the prices.

    Trading in food under the WTO regime can upset the objective of a food security law. The present government is merrily indulging in the export and import of wheat, sugar and certain other items, with disastrous consequences.

    Big business has however other ideas on the question of food security. They are pressing for a legislation of a different type, which will allow direct buying from farmers without the requirement of any license. They want to revamp the policy of fixing the minimum support price (MSP) and make it more market-oriented. They want future trading of wheat, rice, and corn as well as open export of these commodities to be allowed without any restriction. They demand the fertilizer industry to be decontrolled. They oppose the public distribution system, and as a substitute they talk of supplying foodgrains through vouchers to BPL families. On several matters government is succumbing to their pressure.

    The battle therefore is between two policies: one, which ensures food security to our people through a universalized PDS system providing food at subsidized rates, and the other which guarantees profits to the capitalists and traders at the cost of the starving people.

    Everyday promises are being held out to the aam admi. But there is no concrete action to back the promises. People have to move into action. Only this will ensure food security and not the promise of a legislation.


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