Tuesday, March 6, 2012


Lot has been said and written about the pet socialistic project being taken up by the Government of India under the fanciful name of Food Security Bill though many honest, law abiding and average citizens in India are still in the dark regarding the implications of this project. It is all the more appalling that such an attempt is being made with hardly any "repair" to the existing chaotic and debilitating PDS infrastructure with most food grains being pilfered and looted, never reaching the intended beneficiaries! As some one had asked if food grains are going to be distributed practically free to 75% of the population, where is the need for these recipients to work at all! But logic and reality are never strong points with the present ruling dispensation at Delhi. Here is a perspective on the food security bill through the eyes of a foreign country which appears to be insightful and realistic.

"That is before you figure out what it will cost and who will do the legwork. The government says if the bill is legislated, the food subsidy burden will rise by Rs270 billion to Rs950 billion. Private but more reliable expert estimates put the cost at Rs6,000 billion in the first three years, or Rs2,000 billion a year. In spite of its noble intentions, the bill is more likely to aggravate and accentuate all the distortions introduced by government intervention in agriculture. As of October 1, the government had food grains stocks of 51.78 million tonnes, more than double the buffer and strategic reserve requirement on the same date. By cornering such huge volumes of grain, the government reduces supply in the open market, putting upward pressure on prices. At the same time, tonnes upon tonnes of grains just rot away in the absence of proper storage facilities. The same exercise is now proposed to be carried out on a much bigger scale. Procurement and distribution could get really messy and costly if central agencies take upon themselves to collect grain from villages, stock it in central warehouses and wheel them back to villages again. A scheme of this nature can be implemented only if there is a flawless and seamless system of storage, transportation and distribution. Since it does not exist, implementation is bound to suffer. That will lead to the familiar blame game between the centre and the states with heavy political overtones. The bill if implemented will distort cropping pattern further. Cultivation of wheat and rice, which would enjoy a wider ready market with guaranteed price, will get preference over pulses and cash crops. Private trade in food grains has reason to be seriously worried. Once the government offers grain at a price that's at least half (in many cases, a sixth) the market price to two-thirds of the population, why would anyone want to buy from a private trader? What is bad economics is often good politics. In the name of food security, a highly corrupt, bloated and wasteful system is sought to be imposed on the country. Yet no political party will have the gumption to oppose it. Which political leader would want to be seen as an 'enemy' of the poor who opposed provision of cheap food to the starving millions? The hope for the country lies in the inefficiency of its bureaucratic system. The food security bill exemplifies the self-defeating obduracy of bureaucratic modes of thinking. The administrative imagination (or lack of it) that has gone into the bill will ensure that the outcomes are deeply disappointing. That Indians have to count on the weakness of the state apparatus to mitigate impact of wrong policies is a devastating comment on the nature of things." 

It is truly said that the Bill as it stands to day is a bureaucratic creation with hardly any inputs from those knowledgeable about the dynamics of food procurement, storage, distribution and human nutrition. In the history of India bureaucratic schemes never worked and this is not going to be an exception. There cannot be a more wasteful national endeavor than this grandiose scheme. For an average middle class family, paying various taxes to the government and its countless agencies, this project is nothing but heart breaking viewed from the grandiosity and mind-boggling expenditure involved! Posterity will never forgive the politicians who are behind this scheme for the squandering of national wealth mindlessly and recklessly!


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