People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXX

No. 20

May 14, 2006

Defrauding The People

                                                                                                           

Suneet Chopra

 

THE shameless manner in which the government of India is creating conditions for an open general license for the wheat trade must be exposed and fought tooth and nail because this will increase the price of wheat well beyond the capacity of about 60 per cent of our buyers

 

The process is consistent irrespective of the change in government at the centre. Whether it was the NDA government of Atal Behari Vajpayee or the UPA government of Manmohan Singh, their attack on the public distribution system (PDS) has been consistent. If the NDA government between 2001-02 and 2002-03 failed to offer any increase in price to hard-pressed farmers for 20 out of 25 items listed, including paddy and wheat, cotton, soyabean, jowar, bajra, maize, arhar, urad, and moong, to name only a few of these. It was evident that at these prices farmers would not sell to the government and would be forced to find private buyers instead. As a result, in most areas the public distribution system collapsed.

 

This was achieved by paying a minimum support price that was less than or close to the market price and an increase of administered prices to almost double, so that the off-take from the PDS petered out while people starved. There was a huge stock of nearly 6.3 crore m. tonnes of grain with the government then. However, as on March 31, 2006, the government has a fraction of that: 151.66 lakh tonnes, below the buffer stock norm of 162 lakh tonnes.

 

Now, it appears the government is determined to go beyond its profligate sales of grain abroad at as little as Rs 4.30 per kg in 2002 and 2003 years in which people reeled under a drought. It has decided to allow the Australian Wheat Board, Cargill and other multinationals to corner the harvest at prices ranging between Rs 750 to 850 per quintal while they are selling grain possibly the same grain to the government at Rs 950 a quintal. The government of course has neatly kept its support price down to Rs 750. And that too, with chronic delays in payments, so that the farmer sells to the multinationals and leaves a vast gap in the amount procured by the central and state governments.

 

At the same time, a panic is being engineered that the coming monsoon will fail and people are hoarding grain already to sell it at not less that Rs 1500 per quintal. First they create this situation then they fill the gap they have created with imported grain. On February 20, 2006 the Australian Wheat Board contracted to supply 5 lakh tonnes under basic norms to ensure the safety of our homegrown crop from foreign pests and diseases.

 

Now the USA wants to dump possibly infected grain on us. The new tender of the State Trading Corporation (STC) for 30 lakh tonnes permits two fungal pathogens in the cargo: dwarf bunt (tilletia controversa) and ergot (Cleviceps purpurea). Also, the moisture content norm has been eased from 12 per cent to 13.5 per cent. Moreover, the fumigation norms of methyl bromide at 28 Celsius has been given the go by. These shipments are to be 5 lakh tonnes in July, 8 lakh tones in August, 8 lakh tones in September and 9 lakh tones in October, largely in the East and South. Apart from the possibility of infecting our grain with new moulds, this process has been the result of US pressure from March onwards to ease import norms to allow the USA to enter our grain market as well. From 2000 on, the NDA and UPA governments have undone the food security of the country and are now opening our grain market to new diseases.

 

At the same time, our farmers will feel the crunch in prices as the year drags on. They will have been bought out by quick buyers who will then squeeze every rupee out of a population deprived of food protection. And the UPA government like the NDA government will use the fraudulent excuse of high import prices to raise administered prices even further.

 

Every element of an attempt at opening our home market to the detriment of the farmers and of creating a man-made famine in which grain will be there without the capacity to buy it is being attempted. This attempt must be fought off and defeated. The fraud being perpetrated by the government and global agro-businesses (like the sale of Bt cotton by Monsanto in India at six times its price in the USA) must be exposed. The PDS must be made to function, farmers must get their due and the food security that we achieved with such difficulty since the 1960s must not be allowed to be abandoned. If the path of struggle is the only way to achieve it. So be it.