People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXIV

No. 07

February 14, 2010

MANIK SARKAR AT CHIEF MINISTERS MEET

 

Effect Land Reforms, Universalise PDS”

 

Below we publish the text of the speech delivered by Manik Sarkar, the chief minister of Tripura, at the conference of chief ministers on the prices of essential commodities, held in the Vigyan Bhswan in New Delhi on February 6, 2010.

THIS national level meeting was long overdue as all the state governments have been grappling with an unprecedented price rise of essential commodities. However, a look at the extensive agenda covering 14 main items would make it very difficult to arrive at a national consensus on corrective strategy.

The price rise has affected nearly all the sections but has hurt the below poverty line (BPL) families, the peasantry, working class, middle class and semi-middle class the most. And it is now evident that central government’s stimulus package to deal with the recession has benefited only a few, and that the purchasing power of these groups has not increased.

Tripura is deficit in foodgrains production. To bridge the gap between demand and supply (i e production), Tripura has adopted a Ten-Year Perspective Plan for Self-Sufficiency in Foodgrains Production. During the last eight years, the state has made rapid strides in achieving self-sufficiency in the production of quality and certified seeds, and in extension of the irrigation coverage to more than 84 per cent of the irrigable land and 38 per cent of the total cultivable land to boost production. It faces problems in timely supply of fertilisers to farmers due to meagre availability of rail rakes. Overall extension of credit to agriculture is very weak; therefore, credit under the Kisan Credit Cards (KCC) needs to be substantially improved through the central government’s intervention.

We strongly oppose the approach of corporatisation of land. This will further help concentration of land in the hands of a few rich men. Instead, to boost the national production, the government should implement land reforms vigorously to give land to the actual tillers, and this should then be supplemented by providing extensive irrigation facilities, quality seeds, fertilisers and support price.

We feel that the public distribution system (PDS) is getting weakened. Contrarily, the PDS needs to be further strengthened in a welfare state like ours. In fact, the coverage of the PDS should be universal and not ‘targeted,’ so as to make it accessible to all sections, as only then can we claim to provide food security to all. Due to this reason, in Tripura 40 per cent of population is covered under the targeted public distribution system (TPDS) (BPL/Antodaya Anna Yojana) and the rest of the population is covered under the above poverty line (APL) category, taking the PDS coverage to 99 per cent of the population.

The state government had been requesting the central government to cover its entire BPL population (i e 66.67 per cent of population) under the TPDS, but the central government has extended the TPDS coverage to only 40 per cent. We strongly feel that the central government should allow higher coverage of BPL population for the north eastern states as nearly all are deficient in foodgrains production.

In food deficit states like Tripura, less allocation of rice, a staple diet of common people, can create a serious crisis. The state needs a monthly allocation of 30,265 metric tonnes (MT) of rice under the TPDS/OWS, but the present average monthly allocation is only 24,625 MT, adversely affecting the distribution even to the targeted beneficiaries. The central government is urged to enhance the monthly allocation. Though this year the supply of sugar by the Food Corporation of India (FCI) under the PDS has improved to an extent, the yearly supply on an average was only 64 per cent during the last six years. The government of India is requested to continue full supply of the state’s monthly quota of sugar in the coming months.

As the detailed consultation with state governments last year has created an air of expectation in the entire country, the proposed Food Security Act should be immediately implemented. There should not be any unilateral imposition of a ceiling on the number of BPL families by the government of India on the basis of poverty estimates derived from sample surveys; actual identification of the BPL families should be done by respective the state governments through a detailed survey on the basis of a national yardstick. APL families should not be excluded. The scale should be 35 kg of rice per month instead of the proposed 25 kg, gradually raising it to 50 kg. Rice should be sold at Rs 2 per kg and the list of essential items to be distributed through the PDS need to be increased to fourteen by including in it pulses, edible oil, cooking gas, soaps, spices, etc.

The action taken by the state government (of Tripura) on major agenda items is as below:

(i) The stock-holding limits for items such as sugar, pulses, edible oil, rice etc has been notified already. However, for this to have the desired effect, the state government strongly recommends a ban of the futures trading of essential commodities.

(ii) The benefits of the open market sales schemes (OMSS) could not be availed merely because of its cost effectiveness.

(iii) The higher issue prices for the recent special additional ad-hoc allocation of foodgrains, with the resultant dual pricing under the PDS, is neither viable nor acceptable to the targeted groups unless they are sold at the BPL rate.

(iv) The state is unable to take advantage of supply of edible oil and pulses unless the central government provides some price and transport subsidies and also incorporates the local preferences, i e for finished lentils (masur dal) and mustard oil.

The peculiar geographic location (of Tripura) makes our state appear almost inaccessible. This, coupled with communication and infrastructural bottlenecks, threatens the uninterrupted functioning of the public distribution system (PDS). An example of such disruption could be seen during November 2008 - June 2009 which brought the state’s PDS to a virtual halt.

Augmentation of storage infrastructure is most essential for ensuring food security and control of prices. The central agencies should shoulder additional responsibilities in ensuring the uninterrupted supplies of foodgrains to the food deficit states like Tripura which needs to have a storage capacity of 1,70,000 MT (at present 93,000 MT) by 2020 AD. The state government has prepared a Perspective Plan 2020, according to which the FCI would need to construct 25 food godowns (of 27,000 MT capacity) involving an outlay of Rs 13.15 crore. It is also imperative that the long pending proposal for rail-fed godowns should be considered by the FCI as Agartala has been linked by a rail network recently.

The geographical position of the north eastern states, combined with the communication and infrastructure difficulties and small market sizes, necessitates that the central government adopt a different strategy for controlling the prices in this region. It is suggested that some transport subsidy, as that applicable to fertilisers now, should be formulated for the transport of essential commodities to this region.

Opening of a transit route through Bangladesh would greatly help in the trading and transhipment of essential commodities, especially during the rainy seasons, and would help in controlling the prices.

The north eastern states often encounter difficulties in procuring food grains due to limited availability of broad gauge (BG) rakes. Besides, limited availability of the metre gauge wagons has also been causing transhipment constraints at Lumding. Take the case of Tripura: as against the monthly requirement of 16 BG rakes needed for PDS, the average availability is only about 10-11. The state government urges the central government to take urgent steps to address these transportation bottlenecks.

We suggest that the state governments may be given some powers under the Essential Commodities Act to include or exclude items in the list, for preventing black marketing and hoarding. The state governments may also be vested with some powers under the said act to impose fines by the administrative machinery to deter the black marketers and hoarders.

Since an increase in the prices of petrol and diesel has a cascading effect on the prices of essential commodities, adversely affecting the common man, the government of India should consider a reduction in the prices of petroleum products for holding the price line.

I thank the central government for convening this meeting and hope that the steps taken after this meeting would immensely benefit the general populace, especially the vulnerable and poorer sections of this country.