People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXIII

No. 47

November 22, 2009

Fight For The Right To Eat

 

G Mamatha

 

Toiling, boiling in the heat

We produce the corn and wheat.

Have we got no right to eat?

Even while our harvests swell

Wherefore are we forced to dwell

In starvation’s burning hell?

Hunger burns us up and drives

Coffin nails into the lives

Of our mothers, children, wives

How long can we live on air?

Driven by hunger and despair

People rise and do and dare

 

Recently, the UN World Food Summit took place from November 16-18. The three-day summit at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation headquarters in Rome highlighted the plight of the one billion people in the world who go hungry everyday. But, unfortunately, it could not come up with any concrete proposals to fight hunger and ‘free people from the abject and dehumanising conditions of starvation’ as promised in the Millennium Development Goals.

 

The food crisis marked by food shortages and high prices of food has adversely affected billions of people, especially the poor in the developing countries. Persistent high food prices continue to affect access to food for large number of people in both urban and rural areas. The global economic crisis, particularly through the impact of financial speculation on world trade prices of food has aggravated the food crisis leading to a very sharp global volatility in food prices. Rice prices increased by nearly 150 per cent in the first 100 days of this year, Wheat prices increased by 46 per cent, sugar prices increased by 90 per cent. Other food grain prices have also increased similarly. Such wild swings in prices are clearly the result of speculative activity in these markets. The Forward Markets Commission of India reports that the total value of forward trading  between April 1 and June 30, 2008 was Rs 11,15,326.99 crores.  This jumped to Rs 15,64,114.96 for the same period in 2009.  This sharp rise in profits is generated in forward trading by resorting to all kinds of manipulation including black marketeering and hoarding so that the prices must keep rising. 

 

The food crisis which is playing havoc with the lives of the common people, is not a nature made crisis. It is largely a crisis that came about due to the neo-liberal economic policies followed by the ruling classes across the world over the past two decades. Financial deregulation, paving the way to the entry of new financial players into the commodity exchanges, lack of public investment in agriculture, rising costs of cultivation, lack of institutional credit have all contributed to the food crisis.

 

In India, the recent rise in food prices has adversely affected the common people and the effects of the global crisis on employment and livelihoods within the country have further caused deterioration in people’s access to food. Already 77 per cent of the population in our country lives on less than Rs 20 per day. 230 million people are undernourished — the highest for any country in the world. Malnutrition accounts for nearly 50 per cent of child deaths in India. According to the latest report on the state of food insecurity in rural India, more than 1.5 million children are at risk of becoming malnourished because of rising global food prices. India continues to slide downwards in the Human Development Index from a rank of 126 to 128 and now to a rank of 134 out of 182 countries during the last three years.  It ranks 66th out of 88 countries in the Global Hunger Index.



The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) points out that more than 27 per cent of the world's undernourished population lives in India while 43 per cent of children (under 5 years) in the country are underweight. The figure is among the highest in the world and is much higher than the global average of 25 per cent and also higher than sub-Saharan Africa's figure of 28 per cent.
The proportion of stunted children (under-5) at 48 per cent is again among the highest in the world. Every second child in the country is stunted, according to the Health ministry's figures.

 

While the rich are making windfall profits and are getting richer, the poor are condemned to live wretched lives, unable to give a decent living to their children. Even temporarily depriving children of the nutrients can leave permanent scars in terms of stunting their physical growth and intellectual potential, say many reports. But the government continues to pay no heed to such issues. The government has not done anything to control the price rise and rescue the people from this unbearable burden. It is not the dearth of resources but the dearth of political will that is responsible for the miseries of the people. Instead, it always works for safeguarding the interests of the rich people. The governments have made conscious efforts to help the corporates through various bailout and stimulus packages rather than bailing out the people through increased public investment. This is clearly reflected in the performance of the top Indian firms (BSE 200) during this year since the collapse of Lehman Brothers. In the last quarter of 2008, the income of these firms rose by 12.8 per cent while their net profits declined by minus 17.6 per cent. In the first quarter of 2009, while their income grew by a minuscule 0.2 per cent, their net profits jumped by 28.6 per cent. In the second quarter of 2008, their income declined by minus 7 per cent, yet the net profits rose by 20.7 per cent. This shows that while the economic activity is contracting, leading to unemployment and misery for the people, the corporate firms continue to reap super profits thanks to ‘bailout packages’ of the government. Look at another instance. According to the governmnet itself, Rs 4.18 lakh crore was foregone as tax collection last year as a result of various tax concessions. While continuing these concessions, the government has now abolished surcharge on corporate tax and increased the exemption limit for income tax giving an additional bonanza of Rs 10,000 crore. Thus Rs 4.28 lakh crore is the amount that is being foregone by the government's own admission. And, it says it has no money to spare to work for the betterment of the common people. This biased attitude is the reason why there exists a situation in India where more than 300 million overweight people coexist with another 300 million who starve. Chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease that often stem from overeating are also growing at a far faster rate along with the common diseases that affect the poor people.

 

If we want to live, we have to eat and if we want to eat we have to fight. Let us all unite to fight together against these anti people policies and ensure a bright future for us and more importantly for our children. Problems-policies-politics, this crucial link must be exposed, and since politics decide our future, we must decide what kind of politics must be there for us to live a dignified life.