Food Security: Hunger-driven or Power-driven?

Bhaskar Majumder

The first security that people need is food – this security cannot be day-distanced. Each one probably needs food more than one-time each day. This is unlike other basic needs. The type of food, however, differs for people engaged in different types of works. The people engaged in manual works need food in quantity much more relative to the academicians, for example.

People get food from a number of sources that also vary by cross-sections and regions. The people in villages produce food grains that the people in towns do not. The sources of food differ accordingly.

Sources of food = self-production + social support + religious institutions + daan + PDS + market.

Daan (gift) comes from benevolent people, for example, for the elderly people in Ashrams/Homes. The PDS that began with the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 is well-researched by Dreze and all. There may be other sources also like residue food in public Mess, apparent waste food, garbage food and so on. The apparent waste food comes from the festivals like rituals (marriage etc), surplus from Railways and so on. In a nut shell, it has to be food to get inside the stomach to survive first.

Whenever food-need is discussed, the first face that comes on the mirror is that of the income-poor though the non-poor consume more in value terms. So far, I had been beating around the bush. The central point is, the political authority announced on June 30, 2020 extension of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana, a programme to provide free ration for over 800 million people, mostly poor, by five more months till end-November 2020. Each member of a family covered under the scheme will get five kilogram wheat or rice, and every family will get one kilogram whole gram per month as well. The provision is meant to continue up to Diwali and Chhath Puja till end-November – these being the major festivals in the Heartland, it serves the purpose well by encompassing not only the major population of the country but also the major “returnee’’ migrant workers. The scheme was launched for three months from April since the nationwide lockdown was announced.

This free ration scheme covers two and half times the population of the United States, 12 times the population of the United Kingdom and double the population of the European Union. This comparison, however, leads to nowhere for India that is Bharat is a civilization unlike other countries – a civilization that is food-based and a civilization that cannot afford to import food grains for the rest of the world does not produce enough to supply food grains to meet the food requirement of India’s population.

No sooner had the Centre announced the food-plan, one state in exception on the circumference announced free ration or food quota till June 2021 for all the 100 million resident population. The radius-distanced CM also urged the Centre to extend its rationing system to the entire country without any discrimination – did it imply that the state in exception was excluded from the Centre-announced free ration or food quota? It was, however, reported by the state authority that the Centre pledged ration to a population of 60 million only that meant 60.0 percentage of total resident population covered. An apprehension of exclusion has been cited by the authority on the circumference – that the Garib Kalyan Rojgar Yojna -- a job scheme for migrant workers launched by the Centre, excluded West Bengal and hence food security also could be insecurity for the state.  

The first question that comes to my mind is, India that is Bharat is a land of a population 1300 million – which 500 million are excluded from the provision of free ration or food quota? My second question, though half-hearted, will all the returnee migrant workers be included in this provision? The third question, will there be a symbiotic relation between the Centre and the state on the circumference on this provision? The third question is partially answered above.

Many elite-modelled questions came not in the remote past like who would subsidize the food-need of the poor or why should the tax payers be included in food benefits thorough PDS and all that. I believe COVID-19 or Corona 2019/2020 may help open up their third eye. In this context, my fourth question comes. Since it is lockdown, even after announcement of Unlockdown, most of the people are shaky to get engaged in wage-works not only for their selfish-end of surviving some more years but also to save others from what could have been the touch-and-die error.

If this is so, better take food at home – remain home-locked – and survive biologically at least up to November 2020 and enjoy Diwali and Chatt. But Chatt requires going to Ganga Ghaat to worship the setting sun. This is also very interesting. People worship rising sun: Ong Jabakusumo Sankashang.... But setting sun means it may be evening and another round of risk particularly what I experienced in Bihar nearly a decade back.

For sure, any source of food other than the Government of India cannot be a substitute of the Government for the Government administers the food market through the Food Corporation of India and distributed through the Fair Price Shops. This, however, should not be made elastic in imagination to undermine the services provided by the non-state actors to fulfil food needs of migrant workers in the destination during lockdown and walking Bharat on road. The political authority of course acknowledged the role of the civil society in this domain.

The political authority banks on the concept of Atmonirbharsil Bharat that included the cooperation of all – producers, taxpayers, civil society and all. The basic idea is nobody should remain in hunger.

What do we arrive at now? One, food grains were/are produced by 70.0 per cent of India’s population engaged in agriculture – 800 million to get ration till November. This means the same size getting it. However, the casual workers in urban areas are also probably included in this free-food net. If that is so, the size has to be much more than 800 million.

The PDS was universal till 1997 since it was launched. The Centre can think about reverting to that. It is for the Government to calculate the cost implications. In case cost skyrockets, at most 13 million plus one can be offered the moral duty of self-exclusion – 13 million stands for top 1.0 per cent of India’s population who own more than 70.0 per cent of national wealth and one me at the bottom.         

 Bhaskar Majumder, Professor of Economics, G. B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad - 211019

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Jul 5, 2020

Prof. Bhaskar Majumder

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