Friday, May 18, 2012

India's National Food IN-Security

The country’s GDP is reeling under the pressure of Eurozone and global economic turbulence, the Indian currency is rapidly loosing its sheen, the markets throbbing with negative anticipation and each of the centre’s political allies relentlessly pushing for their pound of flesh! Did Pranab Babu, the Brahmin from Kirnahar and the perpetual second-in-command in successive Congress governments, have a choice but to declare austerity measures and a slow withdrawal of fuel subsidies? Apparently none. But why then the Government, didn’t press the button a little earlier by controlling the expenses on the lame duck President’s insipid foreign visits? Why then the state is contemplating building a 4,500 square feet sprawling bunglow, in Pune Cantonment area, for the President’s post retirement stay, wasting a few more precious crores? This at a time when the State has failed miserably in its duty to ensure food and nutrition for poorest of the poor of this country.

The article 47 of the Indian constitution says, “The State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties”. Even the Supreme Court has linked citizens’ right to food to their fundamental rights, hearing PILs and delivering judgements and observations in atleast 65 cases, since 2011, related to hunger, malnutrition, food and social insecurity, etc. But does anyone believe that the Government has paid any heed to the Apex court’s call for accountability and action?

Innumerable Indians die of starvation and malnutrition. The numbers are appalling and scary. The Great Indian Food Paradox is that every year millions of tonnes of food grains are left to rot and are scandalously wasted, in absence of adequate and proper storage space and competent supply chain strategies. Ceaselessly kept on its toe by its political allies the Government continues to be burdened with the weight of the great Indian populist politics, and is obliged to be the largest single buyer of the gross national agricultural produce, in the name of a systemically flawed concept called ‘national food security’ – a misnomer in a country where well over 30% of the population are reeling under intense poverty and are struggling to secure one measly square meal a day.

The Government hardly has an alternative when it comes to buying the agricultural produce to try and protect the farmers from resorting to distress sale of food grains in case of bumper crops. Smarting under the compulsions of coalition politics, the UPA Government keeps on pleasing agricultural lobbies by ensuring basic minimum price of purchase, completely regardless of the demand-supply theory as well as the health of its very own coffer. Every lawmaker in the parliament sings to the same tune and never questions the populist yet chronically inefficient method of the Central food procurement policy.

The fact remains unchanged and is in the public domain, that incredible amounts of food grains are wasted year after year, due to the sheer incompetence of the successive Governments in providing adequate storage or establishing a properly functioning supply chain. Neither the Babus nor the Netas are willing to question the terribly flawed system, resulting in colossal wastage of accumulated stocks, left to rot under the vagaries of merciless weather conditions in open and unprotected spaces. The saddest dilemma is that if the Government sanctions funds for building up a chain of state-owned godowns, its treasury would fall short of the money required to purchase food grains from the farmers, to hoard up the godowns built on public money in the first place. What a damning irony at hand!

Another pertinent question is then why doesn’t the Government just use up the surplus crops and distribute them at subsidised rates through public distribution system? The answer is simple: transportation costs, system inefficiencies, leakages, pilferages, theft and manipulation by local officials and dealers would jack up the cost of distribution quite a few notches above the cost of storing them in open spaces.

So would it help bringing in supply chain specialists, who have the knowledge, experience, moolah and intention with no compulsion other than that of practicality, economy and commerce? Would our quintessential political class, raise themselves above serving their petty political interests, by grabbing onto an opportunity to show that they care? Or would FDI in Retail continue to be the favourite whipping boy for the legislators, especially the ones who are happy to keep a seriously starved nation hanging on its hinges, and sacrificing pure economic logic and larger good on the altar of dumb regional politics?!


Pic courtesy: various news sources     


  1. Why do you always have to write on such serious issues?

  2. can you mention one political aspirant in India who is concerned about the country or the people? I do not know a single one. Let me know if you find any.

  3. Very interesting blog. A lot of blogs I see these days don't really provide anything that attract others, but I'm most definitely interested in this one. Just thought that I would post and let you know.