(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
May 12, 2013
On Amartya Sen’s Expose
May 6, at a press conference in
Sen himself has always favoured a universal public distribution system (PDS); the fact that he came out so strongly for the passing of the proposed bill which is “targeted” to provide food security to only 67 per cent of the population, which assures only cereals to the targeted beneficiaries, and that too to the extent of only five kilograms per month as against the ICMR norm of 14 kilograms, which does not specify a time-frame for the implementation of the measure, and which allows the entry of contractors and commercial interests into the food supply process, only underscores the seriousness, in his perception, of the problem of hunger and under-nutrition in the country.
OF SERIOUS SITUATION
expose of this seriousness coming from a person of Sen’s
eminence is of great
significance, for this
is precisely what
the Left has been saying all along and what the
government, whether NDA or UPA,
has been denying all along. Successive governments
have claimed that
poverty has been declining in
What is more, this ratio according to most such estimates is less than a third at present. The government’s estimate (on Tendulkar’s criteria) is 29.8 per cent for 2009-10; the World Bank’s estimate (where the criterion is spending less than 1.25 US dollars per day) is 32.7 per cent in 2010, which itself is believed to have been boosted by the world recession from the 27.5 per cent that it otherwise would have been; and the UNDP’s estimate (taken presumably from the government of India) is 29.8 per cent.
World Bank believes that
Now, if these figures were more or less correct, then the question would naturally arise: why should there be such concern about the expeditious passing of the food security legislation?
answer to this question could be that while poverty
might be coming down in
To say that poverty has come down while hunger has increased will mean therefore either that the price index used is wrong (so that poverty has not actually come down) or that people, even though they have adequate real purchasing power, choose voluntarily not to spend as much on food as they should (in which case what is needed is an improvement in their awareness, so that they spend less on, say, cell-phones and more on food, rather than a food security legislation).
Besides, if poverty is indeed restricted to less than one-third of the population, then one has to concede that the critics of the proposed legislation, who argue that a food security legislation covering as much as 67 per cent of the population is unnecessary, do have a point. So an emphasis on the urgency of the legislation on the grounds of prevalence of hunger and under-nutrition must presuppose a rejection of the numerous official and international agencies’ poverty estimates as farcical.
can, however, be a second possible way of reconciling a
belief in declining
poverty with an emphasis on the need for a food security
legislation. And this
states that even though poverty is coming down in
But if children continue to be under-nourished even as enough purchasing power is going into the hands of the people to keep lifting them above the poverty line (as is officially claimed), then the reason for this, at least in the case of the non-BPL households, must be either ignorance or callousness on the part of the parent(s), which again is not necessarily taken care of by introducing food security legislation.
It follows then that the rationale for food security legislation lies in the fact that most households do not have adequate purchasing power to meet their food needs at the price charged to the non-BPL population, which means that the ratio of the non-BPL population is grossly overestimated. Poverty in short is far more serious than what all these national and international official agencies claim, as the Left has been arguing all along and as even Amartya Sen has, if only implicitly, underscored in his press conference.
Notwithstanding all the talk of high GDP growth, all the hullabaloo about India emerging as a new “economic superpower,” and all the hype about the development success of the country as a whole, and of some particular states within it like Gujarat, on the basis of which the corporate-financial interests are actually projecting a man, accused of having presided over the infamous 2002 pogrom against the Muslims, as the next prime minister of the country, poverty in India continues to be extremely pervasive.
fact, for which there is evidence galore, should cause no
surprise. There has
been a decline in per capita calorie and protein intake ---
both in rural and
OBSCENE GLOATING OVER
Amartya Sen’s anxiety over the passing of the food security legislation therefore should bring home to large numbers of people a point which the Left has been emphasising for long, namely that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” that it is obscene to gloat over the so-called economic success of India under the neo-liberal regime when the reality is so different.
is this gloating, ironically, that has also come in the way
of even this
limited food security legislation that the government is
trying to introduce.
Large numbers of economists, intellectuals, political
leaders and social
activists have been so taken in by the cacophony generated
by the government
and international agencies about the decline in
Those who disrupt parliament demanding the resignation of the two tainted central ministers and hold up the food security legislation in the process, those who complain about the fiscal burden of the food subsidy that would be needed if 67 per cent of the population is to be provided fixed amounts of cheap food, are no doubt conservative in their outlook. But can one blame only their conservatism for their conduct? Have they not been fed, like almost every body else in the country, on a daily diet of how well the country has been doing by way not only of growth but also of poverty removal?
the public intellectuals of the country outside of the Left
(and they are more
numerous) should have debunked these claims and exposed the