People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXIII

No. 35

August 30, 2009

 

NATIONAL CONVENTION ON RIGHT TO FOOD

 

CPI(M) Calls for Intense Struggles to Ensure Food Security

 

 G Mamatha

 

THE Communist Party of India (Marxist) organised a national convention on right to food and against price rise in New Delhi on August 26. 1500 delegates from across the country attended the convention. Addressing the convention, Prakash Karat, general secretary of the CPI(M), gave the call for a nationwide struggle on three main issues --- relief measures for the drought affected, against exorbitant price rise and for food security. He announced the joint Left parties’ decision to hold state-level rallies and meetings during September and October on these issues. He said other state level parties who support the demands could also participate in the struggles. While welcoming in principle the Food Security Act proposed by the UPA government, he rejected the specific suggestions made by the central government relating to the quantity, pricing and the number of people to be covered as retrograde.

The convention was inaugurated by the Tripura chief minister and Polit Bureau member Manik Sarkar and was addressed by eminent economists Professor Madhura Swaminathan and Professor Jayati Ghosh. CPI(M) Polit Bureau member S Ramachandran Pillai chaired the session. Inaugurating the convention, Manik Sarkar emphasised that the Food Security Act that is being proposed by the Congress-led UPA government in its present form will only institutionalise food insecurity and it will further worsen the problem of malnutrition. He said even after 62 years of independence, we are still grappling with the issues of hunger, malnutrition and starvation deaths and this situation exists because of the policies pursued by the governments in power whose main aim was and is to safeguard the interests of the ruling class. Manik Sarkar exhorted the delegates to galvanise and strengthen the struggle for the basic rights of the people.

Madhura Swaminathan said we have a large number of hungry and malnourished people comprising 83 per cent of rural India and 66 per cent of urban India. In this situation, the right to food should be a fundamental right of the people. It is the primary responsibility of the State to ensure physical and economic access to food for all the people. Public investment in agriculture, expansion of NREGA and subsidies in providing food facilitates universal access to food. Targeted public distribution system hampers the universal access to food for the majority of people, in a situation where majority of the poor people have no BPL or AAY cards, she said.

Professor Jayati Ghosh punctured the arguments of the central government for denying the existing 35 kg of rice at Rs 3 a kg to all the people of India. She said this would cost Rs 1,20,000 crore. As the central government is already making an expenditure of Rs 50,000 crore, it would need an extra Rs 70, 000 crore for meeting this and it amounts to just 1.5 per cent of the GDP. Contrast this with the Rs 300,000 crore tax concessions the government has given to the corporate houses. In the last six months alone, Rs 45,000 crore were given to a single corporate house, Reliance, by the government. Therefore, it is not the dearth of resources but the political will that is responsible for the present condition. She said public procurement must be strengthened and our farmers must be paid reasonable prices to sustain the agriculture. The agricultural commodity futures market is highly speculative and is playing havoc with the pricing of the food items. The essential food grains must be excluded from this.

 

The second session, chaired by Polit Bureau member M K Pandhe, came up with the experiences of the CPI(M)'s intervention in the Left ruled states. Speaking in this session on Left interventions, the finance ministers of Bengal and Kerala --- Asim Dasgupta and Thomas Isaac respectively --- outlined the governmental initiatives to provide relief to the people in the wake of rising prices. Under innovative interventions in the two states, more commodities are being distributed through the PDS and a wider criteria is being used to identify beneficiaries. Notably, the Kerala Government has doubled the number of families under the BPL category as opposed to the centrally sanctioned number. It has also been decided to include all the SC, ST and fishing communities and all those in the unorganised sector under the BPL category. Kerala and Bengal also supply rice at Rs 2 per kg.

The CPI(M) MLAs from Maharashtra and Rajasthan --- J V Gavit  and Amra Ram respectively --- also spoke in this session.

The convention held two other sessions on (1) Anamolies in the BPL and APL categories and problems of access to the PDS; (2) Problems connected with production and procurement. These were chaired by Polit Bureau member, K Varadha Rajan, Central Committee members Subhashini Ali, A Vijayaraghavan, Suneet Chopra and Sudha Sundaraman, kisan leader N K Shukla and youth leaders Tapas Sinha and Sriramakrishan. Nineteen speakers from as many states recounted their experiences. They included delegates from tribal and scheduled caste areas, minority dominated areas, women including a widow of a suicide farmer, and speakers from the drought hit states.

The CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and MP, Brinda Karat placed the resolution on the Right to Food before the convention containing three sets of demands on drought, price rise and alternative proposals for the Food Security Act. The resolution was was passed unanimously after incorporating the suggestions made by the delegates.

Concluding the convention, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and MP, Sitaram Yechury, called upon the delegates to strengthen the struggles against the anti-people policies of the government and to bridge the gap between the ‘shining’ and ‘suffering’ India.  He said with the main opposition party the BJP in doldrums, the government thinks they can do what they like. But the opposition comprises the common people against price rise and food insecurity, and the CPI(M) will intensify the struggle for justice and against inequalities, he said.