Wednesday, December 28, 2011


The so called Food Security Bill is now the hot subject matter of discussion in the country with different people viewing it differently, depending on their political color. It is how ever clear that more than its economic or welfare impact on the citizens of this country, the agenda behind such a move is steeped in politics with the forthcoming elections in a few states with large expectations writ large on the face of the present rulers at Delhi! That the Bill is not sound in terms of its presumptions is well known with the existing massive subsidies likely to be doubled or tripled in the coming years. Similarly with the PDS in such utter disrepute who is is ultimately going to be benefited by this financial hemorrhage can easily be imagined. Here is an interesting expose on this subject slightly different from other views and it cannot be brushed aside as another criticism from the opponents.  

"But what is the empirical basis of the claims of widespread and rising hunger in India? Surely, we cannot go by the claims of the Food and Agricultural Organization, World Bank and many NGOs who themselves prosper from propagating the view that India and Africa suffer from ever-rising hunger and poverty. It so happens that successive expenditure surveys of the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) have asked Indian households whether they have had enough to eat throughout the year. The proportion of those replying in the negative was a high 19% in rural and 7% in urban areas in 1983. But the proportion has steadily shrunken, dropping to less than 3% in rural and less than 1% in urban areas in 2004-05. In what sense then does India suffer from widespread and rising hunger? In their support, the proponents of the food security Bill point to the decline in calorie and protein consumption intake and rise in fat consumption over the years. According to the NSSO, the per-capita calorie consumption across all individuals fell from 2,266 to 2,047 between 1972-73 and 2004-05 in rural India, and from 2,107 to 2,020 in urban India over the same period. A similar trend has been observed in protein intake while the reverse trend has obtained in fat intake. This decline in calorie consumption is, however, reconciled with the sharp decline in the proportion of individuals reporting lack of food once we recognise that economic development has reduced the need for calorie consumption. Thus, increased mechanisation in agriculture and construction improved means of transportation and the shift away from physically-challenging jobs has reduced physical activity. Simultaneously, better absorption of food following improved epidemiological environment means that less calories must be consumed toproduce a given amount ofenergy. Improvements in adult height and all other vital health indicators such as life expectancy, infant mortality and child nutrition reinforce this argument.
Even so, let us be generous to the proponents for a moment and accept that hunger, as they wish to measure it, has risen and is widespread. The million-dollar question then is whether the food security Bill will provide the necessary correction. A moment's reflection shows that the answer is an unequivocal no. The Bill entitles the poor to 7kg of grain per person per month at prices of 1, 2 and 3 per kg for coarse grain, wheat and rice, respectively. So, if I were someone living in abject poverty in Rajasthan, what will be my response?  Each month, I will claim 35 kg of rice from the ration shop for five members of my family at the total cost of 105. I will then sell this rice at 25 per kg for 875 in the open market, buy the usual 25 kg of coarse grain my family consumes in the open market for 250 (at 10 per kg) and net the handsome profit of 520". 

That statistics in India are highly unreliable is a matter acknowledged universally and to base a massive plan like this on such flimsy and questionable data speaks volume about the quality of governance the good and honest citizens of this country is having now. Is there no escape from this disaster that is waiting to happen once the Parliament passes the Bill in its present form? If the present trend of political chicanery and sycophancy is any indication people of India may have to live with this type of political mis-adventure for some time to come. It is no wonder Dr Mahathir Mohamed, the architect of modern Malaysia rightly said about India's inability to match the performance of other emerging economies that the culprit is "overdose" of democracy in the country!


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