Hyderabad, August 27 (INN): Enlarging the discredited, ineffective, leakage-prone and corrupt public distribution system (PDS) in the name of food security is a great farce and tragedy, said Lok Satta Party national President Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan today.
Commenting on the Food Security Bill passed by the Lok Sabha on August 26, Dr. JP said it is nothing but a throwback to the era of license-permit-quota raj.
Dr. JP said it is no doubt true that three to five percent of Indian people are starving for want of food. Instead of focusing on them, the Government has chosen to enlarge the PDS to cover 67 percent of people in the country. What is paradoxical is that the Government move coincides with its claim to have brought down poverty levels significantly.
Dr. JP pointed out that in States like Andhra Pradesh the PDS covers 90 percent of people. More than 40 percent of food grains distributed through the PDS are sold in black market and recycled to the Food Corporation of India. The so-called subsidy is merely lining the pockets of corrupt officials and politicians and unscrupulous traders. Payment of Rs.3 lakh for allotment of a fair price shop in a city like Hyderabad and the huge market demand for a posting expose the magnitude of corruption in the civil supplies and vigilance wings of the Government.
Dr. JP also took exception to the accent on cereals distribution in the name of food security. Malnutrition in India is mostly protein malnutrition and not calorie malnutrition. Food is available in every corner of the country. The problem pertains to absence of purchasing power and not food availability. The answer to the problem lies in distribution of food stamps to the genuinely poor.
Dr. JP referred to the 80 million tons of food grain lying in Government granaries, most of it exposed to rain and shine and rodents and said India can easily earn 10 billion US dollars if it chooses to export surplus food grain and address the current account deficit problem to some extent. Instead, it chooses to sustain the corrupt and ineffective procurement and storage system. The Government can save another 10 billion US dollars if it imposes a modest duty on import of pulses and edible oil and uses the revenue to boost indigenous production. India is today the largest importer of pulses and edible oil in the world and will be an importer forever if it does not mend its policies.
Dr. JP said that poverty can be eradicated only when the poor are enabled to improve their purchasing power. It is possible only when they are provided quality education, skills and jobs. Such a policy calls for a lot of hard work and politics of conviction. The Government, however, opts for vote bank politics by conceiving schemes like food security for most of Indians.
Dr. JP in this context referred to countries like Bangladesh, Thailand and Vietnam occupying the space being vacated by China in low-end manufacturing. They are creating jobs for their people and emerging as huge exporters. Instead of focusing on creation of infrastructure and jobs, India’s rulers are betraying intellectual and moral bankruptcy by harking back to the license-permit raj in the name of food security.
The food security as conceived by the Government will merely deepen the agrarian crisis in India which is witnessing tens of thousands of farmers fleeing farms as agriculture has become unviable. As a direct consequence of the proposed food security, the Government will depress cereal prices and impoverish farmers further to ensure food grain supply to vast sections at hugely subsidized prices.
Dr. JP concluded by saying that the only mantra for eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity is ‘jobs, jobs and jobs’. Palliatives like ensuring food security will not do.