People's Democracy

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


No. 23

June 09, 2013




Food Security: Special Resolve Needed, Not Special Session


THERE is a large amount of speculation over the convening of a special session of parliament while the government, through the minister for parliamentary affairs, has suggested the possibility of convening an all-party meeting to forge a political consensus on the response to the Maoist menace following the brutal attack in Chhattisgarh recently. However, as per media reports, a special session of the parliament may be convened to facilitate the passage of the Food Security Bill. Readers will recollect that when the UPA-2 government assumed office, the then president of India, in her first address to the joint session of the parliament, had outlined various measures that the government would implement in the first 100 days. Among other things, this list prominently featured the Food Security Bill. 


More than four years have passed since then. The government has not managed to bring such a bill for the consideration and adoption of the parliament. There was nobody to stop the government from doing so. There was nobody who could have prevented the government if it had thought of bringing such a bill to the parliament. In other words, the government has nobody to blame but itself for not fulfilling its own promise to the country and the people. 


The constitution of India does not provide for any special session of the parliament. The constitution simply states in article 85 (1): “The president shall from time to time summon each house of parliament to meet at such time and place as he thinks fit, but six months shall not intervene between its last sitting in one session and the date appointed for its first sitting in the next session.”  Therefore, upon the advice of the union cabinet, the president may summon the parliament, in addition to the three sessions – the budget, the monsoon and the winter sessions – as established by tradition. But since the monsoon session usually convenes in the month of July, any session prior to that makes little sense now. 


By making this issue of convening a special session of parliament an agenda for media speculation, this UPA-2 government seems to be trying to derive some political capital by seeking to impress upon the people its commitment to grant them food security. On the contrary, what must be asked of the government is why it has delayed to enact a legislation on this score, despite its own assurances, for more than four years. It is the government, therefore, that has betrayed the people on this score. 


It is clear that only after a considerable amount of internal wrangling that the government, as reported, has finally come forward with the proposal of providing 25 kg of foodgrains in all --- rice at Rs three per kg, wheat at Rs two per kg and millets at Re one per kg. It proposes to cover in this scheme 67 per cent of the Indian families – 75 per cent in rural India and 50 per cent in urban India. As we have repeatedly pointed out and argued in these columns in the past, this is simply inadequate to eliminate hunger and malnutrition from our country. Any meaningful food security is only possible when all families in the country – at least 90 per cent – are provided 35 kg of foodgrains at prices not exceeding Rs two per kg. Any measure that is short of this cannot provide comprehensive food security for our people. This UPA-2 government has, however, refused to accept this point.


Further, any meaningful food security for the people can be ensured only if the public distribution system (PDS) is universalised and it comprehensively covers the country’s population. Instead of doing this, however, the government has come up with a direct cash transfer scheme as the alternative for distribution of essential commodities at fair prices through the ration shops. We shall return to this scheme later. But if these were to be implemented, then the public distribution system itself would be rendered superfluous. This is because the government would ask the people to buy their requirements from the open market against the cash that has been delivered to them. This is the classic recipe for the dismantling of the public distribution system. 


Further, as inflation grows, the monies transferred to the people will increasingly command a lesser and a lesser value in the market. The net result would be that people will not receive what is required to guarantee a minimum level of food security. Therefore, in the final analysis, the public distribution system will remain dismantled and the people, unable to meet their needs, would simply slide into greater misery. 


The dismantling of the public distribution system will have another serious consequence as well. At the moment, foodgrains are procured by the government at a stipulated minimum support price from the farmers. This stock of foodgrains is then distributed through the ration shops to the people at specified prices. With the dismantling of the public distribution system, the government would not any longer need to procure foodgrains. Thus, it would also escape from its responsibility of providing a fair price to the farmer, thus depriving the farmer of any economic security, however weak it may be at the moment.


The direct cash transfer scheme, thus, allows the government to abdicate its responsibility to provide foodgrains to the people and thus protect them from being the victims of hunger and malnutrition on the one hand; on the other hand, the government can also abdicate its responsibility to provide the farmer a minimum support price. Through such a mechanism, the government will continuously be reducing, if not eliminating, its already meagre subsidies to keep the people away from hunger and misery.  At the same time, it can also be relieved of its subsidies to provide a minimum support price to the farmers. 


In other words, what the government is doing is to hoodwink the people. Neither the food security bill nor the cash transfer scheme can provide the much-needed relief to the people. On the contrary, over a period of time, due to the rising prices, such cash transfers will increasingly become too inadequate to meet the nutritional requirements of the family. This UPA-2 government is thus out to ensure that the vast mass of our people are pushed into still greater misery.


In the final analysis, therefore, what is required is not a special session of the parliament; what is required is a special resolve by the government to provide genuine food security to the people. Required adequate allocations must be made by the government to ensure the universalisation of the public distribution system through which the people are provided the wherewithal to first survive and then to improve their livelihood status. 

(June 4, 2013)