(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
April 18, 2010
Resounding Resistance on Food Issue
K K Ragesh
THE countrywide Jail Bharo movement launched by the Left parties against the government's failure to check price rise evoked massive response throughout the country. The mighty movement was unleashed as part of the consistent struggle being organised against the anti-people policies of the UPA 2 government. The central government that miserably failed to curb the price rise saw the people’s wrath on April 8 where more than 25 lakhs of people took part in the countrywide mass court arrest movement. Among the other demands, the movement was focused on the question of price rise and hence demanded universalisation of the public distribution system (PDS), ban on futures trading and speculation in all essential commodities, action against black-marketers and hoarders, release of the excess buffer stock of rice and wheat lying in central government godowns, cuts in customs and excise duties on oil, and reduction of their.
In Kerala, more than six lakh people participated in the civil disobedience movement organised in front of selected central government offices. The massive picketing took place in all the 140 assembly constituency areas. All such selected central government offices remained closed where tens of thousands of people crowed in each centre, opening a new chapter in the history of people’s movement in the state. The picketing commenced in early morning and people in large numbers, including women and children, rallied before the selected centres to ensure the closure of central government offices. All the picketing centres witnessed dazzling presence of women who directly face the menace of price rise.
Last month continues daylong picketings were organised for five days in front of the central government offices at the call of the CPI(M) when nine lakh people enthusiastically participated in it, despite all the propaganda unleashed by reactionary forces. Organisation of a momentous struggle with in a short span of time after a massive movement, itself shows the people’s resentment against the UPA government’s pro-rich policies.
DISMANTLED IN KERALA
The UDF and rightwing media deliberately hide the issues that led to the unusual price rise and tried to shift the onus on to the state government’s shoulders. It is, however, undeniable that the unprecedented rise in prices is an upshot of the central government’s policies.
To recall, the statutory rationing system was introduced in Kerala in 1966 as a result of the food movement during the 1960s, led by legendary leader Comrade A K Gopalan inside and outside the parliament. Subsequently around 95 per cent of the households were covered by the PDS and its benefits were fairly spread across income groups in both rural and urban areas. But as a part of its neo-liberal policies, the Narasimha Rao government initiated in the 1990s a comprehensive plan to sabotage the public distribution system. After the introduction of the TPDS (targeted public distribution system), the entire population was categorised into BPL and APL categories, based on the poverty line defined by the Planning Commission for different states. The government subsequently hiked the grain prices for APL card holders, which resulted in mounting unsold stocks since rations shops lost the attraction of lower price, as was the central government’s design.
Finally the central government drastically reduced the grains supplied through ration shops. It further resulted in closure of many ration shops as it became unviable for the ration dealers.
In its eagerness to cater to the corporate concern, the UPA 2 further introduced food coupons that designed to dismantle even the existing PDS. The government might be reluctant to issue coupons regularly and retail suppliers time and again may not accept the stamps due to the burden of reimbursement. Furthermore, the existing ration shops in Kerala, that absolutely depend on the ration card holders, inevitably had to down their shutters shops, which resulted in total dismantling of the ration system. Thus consumers have to depend on open market. Hence an increase in demand and in food prices. Subsequently the real value of the amount that can be bought with a food stamp declines and this reduces the real value of the food subsidy.
The proposed Food Security Act is set to further worsen the situation. The draft bill proposes that the centre will decide the number of people in each state living below the poverty line, based on the Planning Commission estimates. It will also reduce the quantum of food grains to be given to the weaker sections as well. As for Kerala, the central government’s calculation is that a mere 11 lakhs of households in the state are in the BPL category. At the same time, on the contrary, the state government expanded the number to 25 lakhs of households, further increasing it 35 lakhs in the recent budget. The Left & Democratic Front government of Kerala has done it to ensure that all workers in the unorganised sector and NREGA workers could get its advantage. This is in sharp contrast to the proposed central act which threatens to increase food insecurity and push the prices further up. During the preparation for the struggle in Kerala, it was well conveyed to the common masses that the major cause for price rise is nothing but the pro-rich policies of the ruling class.
While the central governments that serve corporate interest preside over the dubious plan to weaken the PDS, the relevant procurement acts were simultaneously amended, including the Agricultural Marketing Committee Act, and this permits private players to procure food grains directly from farmers. The central government, irrespective of strong opposition, allowed futures trading in essential commodities and hence staked the country’s food security and price stability at the altar of speculative trade. As a result, agricultural products are being sold in the speculative market time and again before a harvest, which means further burdens upon the aam aadmi and super profits for corporate houses involved in grain trade. Thus have grown hoarding and black-marketing in Kerala and elsewhere. Kerala faced a severe scarcity of rice last year and the state government had to carry out such a tough job to get rice directly from the farmers of Andhra Pradesh even though abundant rice was produced last year.
Kerala is a food deficit state as agricultural production is dominated by cash crops instead of food crops like rice and wheat. The state produces only 15 per cent of its food requirement and hence has to depend on other states. Any increase in the prices of petroleum products thus immediately reflects in the prices of essential commodities due to the added fright charges. Yet the UPA government did not hesitate to increase the excise duties on petro products at a time the whole county was burning in the flames of steep price rise. Increased prices of the petroleum products thus added salt to injury and Kerala, a consumer state, is the worst victim.
It is well established and recognised among the public that, unlike the propaganda of the reactionary UDF-media combine, the villain of the piece in case of the present unparalleled price rise are the central government’s policies. While cunningly blaming the state government for the unparalleled price rise, the UDF and the rightwing media deliberately try to hide the fact that it was the Left intervention that credited Kerala with the most effective PDS network in the country. By expanding the scope of BPL list from 11 lakhs of families, as the central government had calculated, to 35 lakhs, the state government has covered around half of the households in Kerala under the advantage of Rs 2 per kg of rice. Through numerous stores of the Civil Supplies Corporation and Consumer Fed, cooperative stores and other various outlets of the PDS, the state’s LDF government has strengthened its market intervention and thus initiated a process to bring the rate of price rise down as far as possible. Still the UDF-media nexus dubiously tries to mislead the people by hiding the real facts and proliferating erroneous humbugs. The general public has discarded such arguments time and again and adhered with the demands raised by the Left movement. However, the ruling classes are yet to appreciate the discontent and resentment of the people, the real victims of their policy. The pages of history are replete with the lesson that notorious regimes have to sooner or later flee away from the people’s wrath.