People's Democracy

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


No. 28

July 11, 2010



Govt Policies Adding to Food Insecurity

Countrywide Awareness Campaign Planned in August


Rajendra Sharma


EVEN though the UPA government had promised to provide food security to the people of the country, its policies have led to sharp rises in the prices, in particular the prices of food items. The rate of food inflation has now gone up to 17 per cent and if this rate of price rise continues, it will only lead to greater food insecurity in the country, making a mockery of the government’s promise of providing food security.

This was how Prakash Karat, general secretary of the CPI(M), put up the food security situation in the country today, while addressing a convention on the issue. This convention on food security, jointly organised by the four Left parties in Mavalankar Auditorium in New Delhi on July 1, directly linked the issue of food insecurity with the rising food inflation in the country and held the government’s policies squarely responsible for it.

The sponsoring parties were the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India, the All India Forward Bloc and the Revolutionary Socialist Party. The auditorium was, on the occasion, jampacked with people from Delhi and the neighbouring states.




In this context, the Left convention described the recent hikes in the prices of petroleum products and the UPA government’s decision to deregulate their prices as yet another attack on the food security of the people. Through the convention, leaders of the Left parties appealed to the common people of the country to make the opposition parties’ Bharat Bandh call, which was scheduled to take lave on July 5, a grand success. Addressing the audience, CPI general secretary A B Bardhan expressed the hope that the (then proposed) Bharat Bandh would make the UPA government tremble. In support of the all-India hartal call, the convention adopted a separate resolution that was moved by CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat.

Through its central resolution, this important convention --- which had representatives from workers, peasants, employees, students, youth and other sections of society --- also decided to run a countrywide people’s awareness campaign on the issue of food security all through the month of August. Aiming to reach down to the village and block levels in rural areas and mohulla level in urban areas, the campaign will also comprise actions like dharnas, padayatras, jeep jathas, processions, prabhat pheris, demonstrations and gheraos, depending on the local level situations.

At the same time, in view of the tensions prevailing among the ruling parties on the issue of food security, the convention demanded that the proposed food security bill must be tabled in the imminent monsoon session of parliament. It also underlined that to become meaningful, the bill must fulfil the following minimum conditions:

1) Food security must be a universal right and not a limited right confined to the families below the so-called and extremely defective line of poverty.

2) It must ensure at least 35 kg of food grains per month to each family at a fixed rate of Rs 2 per kg, and that the scheme must include coarse grains as well.

3) For the pre-school and school going children, food security must be ensured through the anganwadis and mid-day meal scheme.       

4) The government must also ensure the supply of other essential items at controlled rates.




The convention began with an address by three experts who have been studying and writing about the food security and related issues for a long time. Dr M S Swaminathan is chairman of the National Commission for Farmers, which the government constituted in the background of the deepening agrarian crisis and increasing peasant suicides in the country. In his address, he stressed that the food security issue needs be viewed from the viewpoint of a farmer. He specifically reminded that as much as 60 per cent on India’s population is not only of cultivators but also of consumers. This situation is very much different from the US situation where only 3 per cent of the people are engaged in agriculture while 97 per cent are consumers.

While stressing the need of making agriculture remunerative for the farmers, Dr Swaminathan reminded that as many as 40 per cent of the farmers have expressed the desire of giving up cultivation in case they are able to get a viable alternative. The situation has reached such a pass that those in agriculture are wishing to give up cultivation while their new generations are not inclined to take it up. He regretted that not enough steps are being taken to face the existing challenges; not to talk of preparing for the upcoming challenges being created by environmental changes. He warned that in case we have to accede to the Copenhagen Summit’s target of limiting the global warming to 2oC, food grain production in Punjab alone will have to be curtailed by 7 million tonnes.

Renowned journalist P Sainath termed as “exclusivist” the ongoing development process in the country --- one that aims to keep the common mass of this country away from the benefits of the developments. He pointed that at the very time the Tatas made the record of producing the cheapest car in the country, available for only one lakh rupees, tur dal also made the record of going up to Rs 104 per kilogram. The dubious distinction of the ongoing development process is that the articles of use for the affluent sections are getting increasingly cheaper while those needed by the common people are getting increasingly costly. Drawing attention to the wide discrepancies in the estimates of the people below the poverty line, Sainath said all these estimates have one aim in common --- how to keep the maximum possible number of the poor out of the purview of even the minimum available benefits. Ridiculing the UPA government’s claim of a new “social compact” with the aam adami (common man), Sainath wondered why the government could not, instead of making a new compact with the common man, pay attention to fulfilling the Directive Principles of State Policy, enshrined in India’s constitution, which promised food, housing, education and employment to all the citizens of the country.

Before him, Professor Jayati Ghosh had lambasted the repeatedly touted official justification for the petro price hikes --- that the subsidies on diesel, petrol, kerosene oil and LPG were making the public sector oil companies bankrupt. Giving out facts and figures, she explained how the claims regarding the oil companies’ losses were unfounded. In fact the figures quoted in this connection are not of the oil companies’ losses but of so-called under-recoveries. The latter are calculated by subtracting the actual recoveries based on controlled prices from the supposed recoveries on the basis of international crude prices. These are thus the figures of supposed losses which the government “dishonestly” tries to project as actual losses.




Prakash Karat specifically and explicitly underlined the relationship of the growing food insecurity in India with the neo-liberal policies which the successive governments have been pursuing in the last two decades. He reminded how the policy of undermining the public distribution system (PDS), which policy was initiated by the P V Narasimha Rao government, has been taken to its height by the Manmohan Singh government. The division of the common people into APL and BPL categories on the basis of an extremely bogus poverty line has proved to be the most powerful means of undermining the PDS. The CPI(M) leader underlined how this move was a reflection of the class orientation of this government. He pointed out that about 60 million tonnes of food grains are lying in the government’s godowns even when the food inflation is as high as 17 per cent. The government is, however, adamantly refusing to supply this stock to the starving people at subsidised prices through the PDS.

Karat said: while the government is lamenting that the Rs 55,000 crore food subsidy is too heavy a burden for it to bear and is trying to curtail it in one way or another, on one plea or another, the same government had no compunction in doling out Rs 80,000 crore to the affluent sections by way of tax concessions in this year’s budget.

The CPI(M) general secretary also reminded that in the same budget the government went on to curtail the fertiliser subsidy by Rs 3,000 crore even though agriculture and the peasants are facing the worst ever agrarian crisis of independent India and even though the growth rate in agriculture has plummeted down to 0.2 per cent. It was in protest against the hike in diesel and petrol prices announced in the same budget that, for the first time in history, the opposition had walked out in the midst of the budget presentation process.

The CPI(M) leader also drew attention to the fact that the country witnessed a fall of 7.5 per cent in food grain production last year because of the deep crisis the neo-liberal policies have created for Indian agriculture and the peasantry. This has led to a significant fall in the per capita grain availability in the country. This not only shows the sad plight of Indian agriculture which provides employment to about two-third population of the country; this is also causing a disturbing shift from food grain production to non-food crops.

Dealing with the key provisions of the proposed food security bill, Karat said the argument of providing food security to the below-poverty-line people could not be accepted. It appears that the government has agreed to increase the grain supply to 35 kg per family per month through the PDS in place of 25 kg it talked of in the original draft of the bill, but it is also adamant on hiking its price from Rs 2 to Rs 3 per kg. This too is unacceptable, as in at least 10 of the Indian states the BPL people are already getting grains at Rs 2 per kg.    




Referring to the struggle being waged by the Left parties on the issue of food security, Prakash Karat said the struggle is for making the PDS universal, among other things. He reminded that it was on theses issues that the Left had run a campaign all over the country last September through state level conventions, rallies and protest actions. The process led to a huge Left rally in Delhi on March 12, 2010, followed by a countrywide Jail Bharo agitation on April 8. The next action was the countrywide general strike on April 27, in which several other secular parties also participated. Regarding the proposed all-India hartal and the nationwide campaign in August, he said the situation is getting rife for a big struggle in the country, of the kind of struggles that were fought in the 1960s and the 1970s.

CPI general secretary A B Bardhan made a passionate plea to the Left cadres to plunge into a struggle on the issue. Referring to the intensifying problem of food insecurity, he said the lands belonging to the peasantry are being increasingly alienated and expressed the hope that peasants, in their fight to save their lands, would firmly stand by the Left. He lambasted the government that it is more concerned with talking of a poverty line than with how to meet the people’s need of nutrition. He said India is leading the comity of nations in the matter of starvation as well as child malnutrition. He expressed concern that the recent hikes in petro products’ prices would further worsen the plight of the common people who are already reeling under the burdens of excruciating rises in the prices of essential commodities.

Forward Bloc general secretary Debabrata Biswas and RSP general secretary T K Chandrachoodan also addressed the convention.