People's Democracy

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


No. 31

August 01, 2010


Govt Lets Food Rot Amidst Hunger

 G Mamatha



EVERYDAY, millions of Indians sleep hungry. For them, eating is costly and sleeping a luxury. On the other hand, millions of tonnes of food grains are rotting in the government godowns. While we on the other end of the spectrum, are reading reports and watching images of rotting food grains strewn outside government godowns. This stark contrast in itself should stir consternation in any sensitive person. But for our government, this situation is not something that is 'exceptional'. Might be it needs something more 'graver' for them to take note. 'Take note', and even then there is no guarantee that it would act.


According to newspaper reports, ‘17.8 million mt of food grains are lying in the open, exposed to the nature with only — what Food Corporation of India (FCI) euphemistically calls — ‘CAP’ covers (tarpaulin sheets covering food grains) as protection, weathering the Indian monsoon. In Punjab alone, close to 1.5 lakh mt of wheat is lying in the open that was procured in 2008-09 and has weathered three monsoons. Many food campaigners say it is doubtful if more than half of this is now fit for human consumption and even by the most conservative estimates, at least 50,000 mt of wheat that is more than two years old will have to be destroyed soon. Fifty-thousand metric tonnes of wheat! At 35 kg per family per month, it is the annual food grain quota for 1,20,000 families under the public distribution system (PDS). It is food that could have staved off hunger for more than half million Indians — for a whole year.’


It is the criminal negligence on the part of the government to allow so much grain to go waste. In a country with the most number of hungry people in the world,  with the highest number of starvation deaths, a nation that is ranked 66th out of 88 countries (behind Cameroon, Nigeria and, even Sudan) in the Global Hunger Index, this situation is a reflection of the  cruelty of the government towards the people. Remember, in our country children at a very young age learn to live with hunger, eating silica laced mud and twigs, etc to survive. This government does not heed to the needs of these people.


The UPA-II government is run according to the dictates and whims and fancies of the market forces. It responds only to profitability and monetary demand, not social need – it is not just about food alone, but it is also about housing, health care, or any of life’s necessities. A rational economic system should ensure that production is geared to meet social need and regulate prices so that they are in reach of the majority of peopel. But capitalism does not and cannot do that. Because, “the market respects demand, not need.” It is a system in which the “need” of the wealthy to make profit drives everything else, and it is increasingly leading to irrational and disastrous results.


In the last two years that have seen the highest food inflation in three decades in India, ironically, but not unsurprisingly, the procurement of food grains for the central pool by FCI has crossed 60 million metric tonnes. The buffer and strategic reserve norms for the country is around 21 million metric tonnes. This means the FCI is holding on to about thrice the buffer norms, while the country is reporting starvation deaths and malnutrition in increasing numbers. The most shameless aspect in this fact is, FCI is a government institution – imagine the situation if its functions are completely privatised.


According to a noted food campaigner, if the foodgrains hoarded by FCI were lined up, the line would “stretch for a million kilometres – more than twice the distance from the earth to the moon”. Incredible India indeed! 


Wondering what is happening with all the growth rates that are associated with our country. High growth rates are resulting in increasing number of billionaires on the one hand and rising destitution and poverty on the other. According to the 2010 World Wealth Report, India's high net worth individuals (HNWIs), who are just 0.01per cent of the population, their combined worth is close to one-third of India's Gross National Income (GNI). The HNWIs have registered an increase of more than 50 per cent over the 2008 number. As a class not only have India's super-rich recouped their 2008 losses, they have even made gains in this period.


According to some reports, basing on some simple calculations, an average Indian living in urban areas would need 2,238 years to achieve a net worth equal to that of average HNWI. This is calculated on the basis of the monthly per capita expenditure estimates given in the 2007-08 National Sample Survey. And this comes with an important rider. This citizen would be able to reach even this level, if he/she does not consume anything but just keeps on accumulating income. A similar feat takes an average rural Indian 3,814 years, just a bit longer than their urban counterpart!


Let us now take a look at the other side of the coin. In 2009 alone, an estimated 13.6 million more people in India became poor. A new multi-dimensional poverty index, developed at Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) for the United Nations Development Programmes (UNDP) forthcoming 2010 Human Development Report says,about 645 million people or 55 per cent of India's population is poor . There are more poor people in eight Indian states than in all of sub-Saharan Africa—26 countries combined. The study's conclusions reinforce claims that distribution of the wealth generated by India's rapid economic growth – recently around 10 per cent year on year – is highly unequal.


For the ruling classes of our country, currently represented by the UPA government,  ‘nothing exists in this world, except for the sake of money, itself not excluded. It knows no bliss save that of rapid gain, no pain save that of losing gold. In the presence of this avarice and lust of gain, it is not possible for a single human sentiment or opinion to remain untainted’. So what if people are dying of starvation amidst food rotting for lack of takers, this government will yell,  “And yet there is a great deal of money made here, good morning, sir.”


The prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has repeatedly said his vision is to ensure 'inclusive' development. Perhaps, his vision of inclusive growth does not include the deprived and poor as his government has not taken actions to bring down prices of essential food items that are witnessing unprecedented levels of increase for over 30 years. Against last year, food prices are up by 18 per cent. Instead of reducing them, what it did is further increase the prices of petroleum products. Their cascading effects on other prices have, for the poor, cut the quality of food intake, sapped their already low nutrition levels and made them more vulnerable to disease. There is hypocrisy behind this claim of inclusive growth.


Policy makers mouthing “inclusive growth” sound hypocritical when deprivation is rising because of actions (raising fuel prices) and inactions (not using grain stocks to bring down prices). It is high time that this hypocrisy is exposed and reality exposed to the people. People thus empowered, should be mobilised in multitudes – fighting is the only way out of this situation.