Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Is it not a fact that on every issue that confronts the nation there are at least two opinions and in a democracy there there can be as many views as the population itself? Latest issue that is inviting rave views concerns the bumper production of food grains being claimed by the government and what should be done with it because the grain storage capacity cannot accommodate the entire grains procured by the government agencies at an MSP considered high by many economic pundits. Added to this there are proposals to increase the MSP further to play to the farm lobby interest. Extent of wastage due to rotting of wheat which are stored in Godowns and open space under the CAP system is no body's business with even the Supreme Court castigating the government for its shirking of the responsibility to feed the nation qualitatively and quantitatively. The paradox and irony of the situation are graphically illustrated by a recent report which is highlighted below.

"Why are we paying Rs 20 for a kilo of atta when India has gathered a historic wheat harvest of 90 million tonne, enough to comfortably feed us all? Why is bread going out of the reach of lakhs of school kids, when grain is rotting in government godowns? Why is the Manmohan Singh government willing to subsidize wheat exporters but not ready to sell more in ration shops? There is only one answer to these troubling questions: it's no accident, it is policy. It starts with the government's inability to say stop. Government supplies wheat to ration shops and welfare feeding programmes through the Food Corporation of India. This year, after keeping aside buffer and strategic reserves, the FCI can be comfortably off with 35 million tonne. On April 1, when the new wheat marketing season began, government started with 20 million tonne left over from last year. And it has bought 10 million tonnes more since then. In other words, government can shortly exit the market. FCI has enough space to store this wheat safely. Thefood subsidy bill would be manageable. And there would be ample wheat left with farmers for food companies to buy. With a minimum support price of Rs 12.80 per kilo, atta would not cost us more than Rs 16. But this scenario doesn't reckon with politics. The government does not dare stop buying as long as even one farmer in Punjab and Haryana wishes to sell. The political reprisal would be swift and deadly. Till two years ago, there was a natural limit to government purchases because FCI was largely absent in other wheat-growing states. Then, under pressure from other chief ministers desperate to replicate Punjab's political success with wheat, government allowed states to buy on FCI's behalf. This opened the floodgates. Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan began offering farmers the MSP plus Rs 1 per kilo extra, creating a stampede of sellers. Bihar, Gujarat, and Maharashtra are also buying enthusiastically". 

While large farmers are cozying up to the government to reap big profit from their large holdings, it is the small and marginal farmer with a tendency to commit suicide because of the inequities that stare at them are adversely affected, no matter how high the MSP is! How about the consumer who is sidelined in this raging debate and what are his thoughts? Desperation, frustration and helplessness are his fate! Why not government sit up and take note of the daily sufferings inflicted on him by the policy paralysis that is evident for the aam aadmi of this country? It is true that there is no magic bullet to save the country from chaos brought upon by the present power class which seems to be more obsessed in staying in power "at any cost". But displaying statesmanship and ability to recognize the sensitivity and sufferings of the people should be the hallmark of good governance and lot of the problem that face the country can be sorted out through sincere consultation and cooperation among the political class. Any body at Delhi listening?


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