People's Democracy

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


No. 30

July 29, 2012



Right to Food

A Fundamental Right


THE month-long joint campaign and movement on the issue of food security conducted by the four Left parties will culminate in a five-day dharna before the parliament beginning from Monday, July 30, 2012.


During this month-long campaign, struggles took place across the country for BPL cards for all poorer sections, adequate supply of foodgrains and other essential commodities through the public distribution system (PDS) and to stop the siphoning off of foodgrains from the PDS for profiteering and black market.


The main focus of this campaign is to pressurise this UPA-2 government to enact a food security law which ensures that every single family in the country, both BPL and APL, will be provided 35 kg of foodgrains every month at Rs 2/kg.  This is the only way in which the problems of hunger and food insecurity can be resolved. 


According to the United Nation’s Global Hunger Index (GHI), India ranks 67 amongst the 80 countries in the world which suffer from acute hunger of its people.  25 per cent of the world’s hungry are (shameful to admit) today Indians.  According to this index, India ranks even below countries like North Korea and civil war ridden and now divided Sudan.


One-third of the world’s children suffering from malnutrition, below the age of five, are in India.  44 per cent of our children are underweight.  72 per cent suffer from anemia.  Worse, 52 per cent of pregnant women suffer from anemia.  They are giving birth to the future of India.  Thousands of children die every day in our country due to completely preventable diseases. 


Even on this count, there are two Indias in the making.  11 per cent of our people suffer from `overnutrition’, i.e., consuming too many or too much of wrong type of calories. At the other end of the spectrum, the world’s largest number of obese people are in India. This is the `shining’ India suffering from diseases caused by plenty. 


The main cause for malnutrition is the non-availability of proper nutrition due to food insecurity. This is the main reason for the persistence of hunger.  By conservative estimates, 75 per cent of rural Indians and 73 per cent of the urban have a daily intake of calories that is lower than what is required for mere survival. 


That this situation will be reversed if India regains its GDP growth rate is negated by the fact that the growth of foodgrains output has reduced to 1.3 per cent annually during the first decade of this century (coinciding with the period of high GDP growth) from 2.7 per cent during the pre-economic reform decade of 1980s.  This has led, in turn, to a decline in the per capita availability of foodgrains from 494 grams per day per head in 1990 to 438 in 2009. 


With the introduction of the neo-liberal economic reforms, the universal public distribution system through ration cards was abandoned in 1997. Notwithstanding its universal deficiencies and associated corruption, this system allowed 21 million tonnes of foodgrains, i.e., 45 per cent of the available food stock in 1991 to be distributed through the ration shops.  By 2001, such distribution reduced to a mere 13 million. 


Ironically, the government continues to be in a state of denial in accepting the realities of poverty and misery of the vast majority of the Indian people.  It refuses to release the excess stock of foodgrains held in the central government godowns to be given to the states at BPL prices for distribution to the poor.  As of June 1, 2012, the government had food stocks of 82.3 million tonnes.  This is in excess of the buffer norm requirement by over 50 million tones.  6.6 million tonnes of this grain is rotting in open spaces as the government godowns are overflowing.  Yet, this UPA-2 government refuses to release these stocks. The former finance minister, now the president of India, had told the parliament that the government would need to spend at least Rs 20,000 crores to create spaces for storing the foodgrains that will be procured in the current season.  Yet, the government refuses to release these stocks and instead is seeking to export them for profit keeping our own people hungry. What else are these, but merchants of death? 


The 13th president of our republic took his oath of office, today, as we go to press. In his acceptance speech in the parliament’s Central Hall, he defined economic equity as the most important of all equalities. “For our development to be real the poorest of our land must feel that they are part of the narrative of rising India”. On this basis, he gives us a new vision of our `tryst with destiny’: “to eliminate the curse of poverty, and create such opportunities for the young that they can take our India forward by quantum leaps.  There is no humiliation more abusive than hunger.  Trickle-down theories do not address the legitimate aspirations of the poor.  We must lift those at the bottom so that poverty is erased from the dictionary of modern India.”


If there is any sincerity in realising this vision, then the president must direct `his government’ to legislate the Right to Food as a fundamental right of all our people.  We can begin the journey to realise this vision, Hon’ble President, only when we enact a law that ensures that every family in our country is provided with 35 kg of foodgrains every month at Rs 2/kg.


It is precisely to achieve this objective and, thus, banish hunger from our country that the Left parties are pressurising this UPA government through this five-day dharna before the parliament.  Such popular mobilisations will have to be strengthened in the future in order to create a better India sans hunger and poverty.


(July 25, 2012)