August 22, 2010

guest chat: food security

This chat item has been contributed by friend Soumitra Bose* I am obliged, more so because this blog is hardly visible right now.

I once asked a journalist friend whether the much touted Food Security Bill would be brought in parliament in the budget session. At that time, budget session was two months away. “In no way,” he replied. “There are much more important things to take care.”

“But it is Sonia’s pet project and the government has been saying…”

The friend laughed. I could not understand how an issue as important as food security, for which the government had shown quite some interest and which was Congress’s poll promise, could be relegated to the backseat. Economic journalists had been writing, some quoting sources, that a bill was imminent.

“They need to settle this foodgrain production thing,” I tried to give a reason to support him. At that time, rotting of foodgrains was not in the news. The only problem was decline in foodgrain production due to last year’s drought.

“Do you think, that is a problem?” He asked.

I squinted my eyes and let lines grow on my forehead, but no other reason came to mind. I am an economist by profession, not a political analyst. Economists seldom read things other than economics.

“I will tell you later. Let the session begin.”

We met only a few days back. In the mean time, many things have happened . Mamta’s rally and talks, Kashmir problem, GST talks, Commonwealth corruption issue, etc. have taken valuable time of the earlier and this parliament session. Rotting of foodgrains was discussed everywhere, but there was hardly any talk of the food security bill. Now the Supreme Court has said that rotting of foodgrains is a crime and instead of letting the grain rot, government should give it free to the poor. Sharad Pawar, the ICC chairman more than agriculture minister, has said that it is not possible to give grain free to the poor. But, for once, he is right. It can be given with some sort of subsidy but not free. The Supreme Court too had not said this thing as a direction but to show their dismay at the food management by the government. We feel that if poor people are given more subsidised food, they get to store more food. This gives them food security and the entire problem of storage vanishes. That will also rein the prices in a much better way than trying open market sale and so many other mechanisms none of which seem to be working.

In fact, what Shard bhai says and what economists are saying is what the food security bill is meant to achieve, but where has the bill and NAC people gone?

I asked that friend now.

“It will come to discussion table now. The food ministry has already prepared its draft. GOM has done its job. NAC will start discussion on it now and things will roll.”

“You proved right. It was delayed, but why?”

“Look at the election calendar, dear,” the friend said.

I know he will prove right this time also. We will soon have our food security bill. The discussions will start just after the parliament session ends in a few days, I bet.

*Freelance contributor to many newspapers

chat unchat

"... increase the storage facility by constructing godowns in every district. But not a single grain of food should be wasted. If due to lack of storage facility food grains are rotting and getting wasted, then distribute it free to those hungry..." Supreme Court bench in an order on 12th August 2010

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