Manmohan Mantra Remove the hungry, not hunger?
There cannot be any excuse for not eradicating hunger. The Supreme Court was quite right in jolting the Union government. “In a country where admittedly people are starving, it is a crime to waste even a single grain,” said the annoyed Apex Court. And it suggested that the grain be released to those who deserve it. But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took on the Supreme Court for straying into the executive’s domain by ordering free food for the poor, while interacting with a small group of editors at his residence this week. It may be debated whether the Supreme Court should or should not go into the realm of policy formulation. But the government should have ensured that foodgrains did not rot. It is the duty of the government to create and maintain adequate storage facilities so that not a grain is wasted at a time when high inflation and rising prices have made the lives of people, especially those below the poverty line, miserable.
It is so ironical to see that representatives of hungry Indians are overfed and pampered politicians. The issues of importance to MPs are hike in their salaries by almost 300 per cent, not to mention the issue of other sources of money, as all of them are ‘dead honest’! Who bothers for hunger, when the rotund politicians survive on freebies? But thanks to a section of our media that it’s vigilance, and keeps the miseries of aam aadmi in forefront. At least, it gives, if not food, “food for thought”. But the government, it appears, does not like this food. Otherwise, Dr Singh, heading a country that is in the bottom pile of the Human Development Index, wouldn’t have spoken with such insensitivity on the subject. What is more, his call for more people to be taken out of agriculture betrays his government’s dangerous orientation towards globalisation. If people are taken out of agriculture, what should people of rural India do? Migrate to cities only to be ousted from there with disrespect? In this backdrop, the Prime Minister’s argument against providing free food for the poor, linking this to farmers being suggested to migrate to cities, appears to be an attempt to deflect attention from real issues, i.e. price rise, terrorism, Kashmir issue, unemployment, etc. As far as poverty is concerned, the facts are quite clear. But he patted the back of his government at the 92nd annual conference of the Indian Economic Association, Bhubaneshwar, in December last year. He said at the conference: “The percentage of population below the poverty line has certainly not increased. In fact it has continued to decline after the economic reforms at least at the same rate as it did before.” In a sense, he appears to have said ‘truth’, as when the prices of pulses are Rs100 per kg, sugar Rs 90 per kg, atta Rs 20 per kg, vegetables around Rs 80 per kg and above, this is only a sign of ‘poverty-free’ India.
Well, jokes apart, hunger, under-nutrition, poverty, whatever the nomenclature, is insidious—it sucks the life out of human beings before clinical signs show. There are worrying signs at both the national and state levels. It is at least 18 months since the creation of the Prime Minister’s Council on Nutrition. But it has not met once. The scandal of rotting foodgrains in the midst of hunger and under-nutrition has rightly been getting a lot of media coverage. And we still don’t know who in Delhi is responsible for leading efforts to reduce hunger. If current rates of progress in reducing hunger are not improved upon, India will reach the UN Millennium Development Goal of halving hunger by 2043. The target date is 2015. China has already exceeded the target. Hunger requires action on many fronts—it requires coordination and leveraging, and scaling-up of quality. All of these features demand leadership. And Karnataka CM has shown this leadership quality as the State of Karnataka has just adopted a Nutrition Mission, which promises to give focus, coherence and urgency to efforts to combat hunger. For, hunger, often engendered through information deficits, generates negative spillovers for the current and next generation.
Therefore, the UPA government, instead of getting into a confrontation with the judiciary, should act on the proposed law on food security. Foodgrains should be distributed at subsidised rates and the Food Corporation of India must adopt modern technology in grain storage. It is worth mentioning here Gandhiji’s aphorism: “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.” May God bless those in vistas of Parliament, particularly those of Congress with some genuine care and love for their electors!