People's Democracy

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


No. 37

September 12, 2010




Wither Such Double-Talk


HAVING spoken only on the civil nuclear liability bill in the just concluded monsoon session of the parliament, the prime minister, in an interaction with a group of senior editors, spoke on a wide range of issues, apart from this bill.  What concerns us here are his remarks related to the food security of our people. 


The prime minister virtually admonished the Supreme Court’s observations regarding foodgrains rotting due to lack of storage space by saying that the apex court “should not get into policy formulation”.  The apex court had recently observed, “It is time that we develop a culture of zero tolerance towards corruption so as to ensure two square meals for the hungry and the poor. What will be the choice of the government – allow foodgrains to rot or give it free to the poor and hungry.  The choice is obvious.  (Emphasis added).  The prime minister strongly argued against such an idea saying that it would kill the farmer’s incentive to produce, thus, creating a different set of problems. 


This is a very tenuous argument.  The issue here is about distribution of foodgrains already procured by the government.  The incentive to the farmer lies in the guaranteed minimum support price  at which the government procures.  Once the farmer sells his produce, the manner in which the government disposes that produce is not an issue that concerns or influences the farmers’ productive capacities.  As long as the government procures, there is no disincentive for the farmers.  This argument, thus, holds no water. 


As far as the food security act is concerned, the government, in an affidavit submitted before the apex court, said that it was actively considering the matter and would finalise after taking the suggestions of the national advisory council into account.  The issue of a legal enforcement of the right to food has been going on since April 2001 before the Supreme Court.  This right to food case, as it is popularly known, generated such empathy that the president’s address to the first joint session of the parliament, under UPA-II government, mentioned, “My government proposes to enact a new law – the national food security act – that will provide a statutory basis for a framework which assures food security for all”.   Sixteen months down the line, this assurance is still eluding the country and the people. 


Given the prime minister’s attitude, it is clear that the effective and meaningful implementation of food security, if ever it comes about, will take a long time.  However, the urgency cannot but be underlined.  Way back in 2003 January, the National Human Rights Commission had commented that, “There is a fundamental right to be free from hunger”.  India, today, has  one of the most unconscionable levels of chronic hunger and depravation.  With 46 per cent child malnutrition, India rates higher than sub Saharan Africa and neighbouring Bangladesh.  Nearly 40 per cent of our adult population has a Body Mass Index of less than 18.5 which implies chronic energy deficiency of epic proportions bordering on, as some describe, “a national humanitarian crisis”. 


An effective food security network can only come about through a universal public distribution system that ensures the availability of foodgrains at affordable rates for the most hungry.  While the NAC is reportedly discussing this issue, the prime minister’s observation clearly indicates that like the two Indias in the making, there are two views reflecting these two Indias in the government itself.  The dominant view which controls policy is the PM propelled neo-liberal trajectory that is destined to widen the rich-poor divide.  The other view, which neither controls nor dictates policy is designed for misleading population.  Going by their own track record, it is clear as to which view would prevail.  Food security for all will continue to remain a chimera for the vast majority of our people living in real India. 


While this is how this UPA-II government perpetuates the widening gulf between the `shining’ and `suffering’ India, the Congress party’s high profile general secretary has recently accused the Left Front government in West Bengal of  taking the state backwards and perpetuating poverty.  One can understand such campaigns at the time of elections.  But, even these have to be based on facts and realities.  Some parts of West Bengal like Purulia had been described as the most backward in the country.  A comparison of the socio-economic indicators of Purulia with those in Rae Bareli and Amethi will tell the real story.  The number of people below the poverty line in Purulia is 31 per cent compared to 54 per cent in Rae Bareli and Amethi.  Likewise, families with electricity were 29 compared 14; per capita expenditure is Rs 461 compared to Rs 385; vaccinated children  84 compared to 16; neo-natal deaths 46 compared to 83 per thousand; and fatality below five years 89 compared to 160 per thousand. 


The bulk of India’s poverty is in our rural areas.  The most effective way of tackling this is through land reforms.  West Bengal ranks foremost amongst all states on this score.  Nearly 1.3 million acres of illegally held land was acquired and distributed among over 3 million landless and marginal cultivator households.  The registration of over 1.5 million bargadars (share croppers) brought 1.1 million acres of land under their control through operation barga.  As of 2007, West Bengal whose population is 8 per cent of the country’s, having only 3.5 per cent of our country’s agricultural land, accounted for 22 per cent of the total ceiling surplus land distributed in the country.  Contrary to all adverse and hostile propaganda that the CPI(M) is against the peasantry,  a further 16,700 acres of land were distributed to landless families between 2007 and 2010.  Agricultural productivity and output have made remarkable strides.  From a chronic rice deficit state, West Bengal today produces the largest quantity of rice.  The Left Front government today supplies rice at Rs 2 per kilo to 2.64 crore BPL population. 


West Bengal is the third most intensely agricultural state in India with 76.61 per cent of its land under cultivation. However, only 28.1 of this is irrigated, unlike say Punjab which has 89.72 per cent, thanks to  central projects like the Bhakra Nangal dam, the like of which are denied to Bengal. Despite this, Bengal today has the third highest average yield in India and its volume of foodgrains production is also third after Punjab and Uttar Pradesh (undivided; because of its sheer size not productivity). Today it is the country’s largest producer of rice. In the early eighties the per capita net agricultural product in West Bengal was 18 per cent lower than the national average. Today it stands over 10 per cent higher than the national average.


The three tier system of democratically elected bodies established by the Left Front in West Bengal has achieved successes in a manner that is unprecedented elsewhere in the country.  The Congress party today will do well to remember that it was a full seventeen years after this initiative by the Left Front in West Bengal that the panchayati raj system was adopted for the country through the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments piloted by the then prime minister Shri Rajiv Gandhi. 


This is the hard reality between those who mouth concerns of two Indias and the Left that takes steps to provide relief, despite severe limitations imposed by our constitution on the state government’s ability to raise resources. 

Given these hard facts, we only wish that our political detractors challenge us on the basis of such hard facts and not through a barrage of allegations and disinformation.  In the meanwhile, the Congress-led UPA could well redeem its own pledge of putting an end to the perpetuation of two Indias and providing our people  their fundamental right to be free from hunger. 

(September 8, 2010)