Civil Service Essay — Focus — Food Security BillJuly 8, 2013 at 3:18 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments
Tags: Civil Service essay, Food Security Bill, Food subsidies in India, India's starving population, PDS
Combating hunger in India through legislation ..
India is a land of contrasts. In this country, a person making a journey might come across huge piles of wheat and rice bags rotting away in platforms. Within a kilometer of this disturbing scene, one would get to see villagers emaciated
due to years of low food intake moving around like ghosts. Why the rotting food can not reach the hungry mouths is a question that has defied solution. Even strong intervention from the apex court has failed to get the government moving. In short, government machinery in this country fails to deliver in areas where a little more energy and initiative can do wonders. Apathy to human misery has always been a trait of government servants in this country. The devastating Bengal Famine of 1943, during which droves of dying skeletons lay strewn in the streets of Calcutta, was caused due to government inefficiency. The same malaise haunts us today, nearly seven decades later.
What does the Food Security Bill mean to the common man? …It will guarantee 5 kg of rice, wheat and coarse cereals per month per person at a fixed price of Rs 3, Rs 2, Re 1, respectively. A rosy figure for the calorie-starved millions of India – almost too good to be true.
The central government has pushed the Food Security Bill with amazing alacrity. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) that rules India, has got the Bill passed by an ordnance, not through the usual parliament route. Within six months from the date of promulgation, the government will have to seek the approval of this Bill through parliament to avoid the ordnance falling through.
Nevertheless, the government known for its indecisiveness and foot-dragging deserves appreciation for this rare show of efficiency. But, there are skeptics. The question they ask is what made the government act with such haste? Is it the hunger pangs of the starving citizens or the looming state and central elections?
The Food Security Bill aims to ensure supply of very cheap food grains to nearly 75% of India’s rural population and 50% of urban population. Together, it will mean that some 67% of Indians will get cheap food, subsidized by the government.
What are the roadblocks? … It is a mammoth task. If ever the government succeeds, it will have accomplished a stupendous task, unique in the world. But will this success come India’s way? The task is too daunting, almost mind-boggling. The reasons are as follows.
a. Do we have the capacity to grow such humongous amount of food? Once cheap food is available, people will consume more and need more. The supply side pressure will mount.
b. Can we store such large quantities of food stuff? India has capacity to store just about 30 million tons of food presently. When the new scheme becomes operational, the country will need to store some 60 million tons of food. How do we create some much of additional storage capacity in short time?
c. The Public Distribution System (PDS) is a gigantic government-operated machine. As a result, it is mired in inefficiency, corruption and maladministration. Estimates indicate that nearly 40% of the PDS food gets diverted to the open market, leaving serpentine queues in front of ration shops. How can this creaking machinery be made efficient enough to handle the enhanced number of customers? The PDS is operated by state governments. Very few of them are known for their good governance record. The fear is, unless something miraculous happens to inject life and energy to the PDS, it will get bogged down under the bigger load to serve many more customers. The result will be chaos of catastrophic proportions.
d. Most importantly, buying such huge quantities of food at higher rates and selling them to consumers at very low rates will need government subsidies. Already the huge food subsidy has weighed down India’s public finances pushing the budget deficit to unmanageable proportions. When the Bill’s intended provisions are rolled out across India, the food subsidy burden of the government will jump three times. It will run to Rs. 125, 000 crores per year.
Even a school boy would say that India simply does not have so much money. How will the government manage to keep the subsidized scheme going?
None of these questions have been answered by the government. There has been no need for such scrutiny, because the government found it expedient to take the quick-fix ordnance route. In a way, the UPA-led government leaders are right, because the BJP with its obstructionist mindset could have blocked its passage in the parliament.
So, will the Food Security Bill stave off hunger or will it be another avenue for increasing number of touts and middlemen to line their pockets? Only time will tell.
To know how India’s Food Security Act falls foul of the provisions of the WTO,
For an in-depth essay on India’s Land Acquisition Bill, click here.