A RECIPE FOR DISAS­TER

The Govern­ment’s flag­ship scheme to fight hunger is in­her­ently flawed in many ways

India Today - - OPINION - LAVEESH BHAN­DARI Laveesh Bhan­dari is di­rec­tor at In­di­cus An­a­lyt­ics, an eco­nomic re­search firm

So the Food Se­cu­rity Bill is through. More than two- thirds of the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion has now been promised highly sub­sidised food. Congress and UPA will get ex­tra per­cent­age points in votes. Add an­other 2- 3 per­cent­age points be­cause of good mon­soon and you get a good enough swing for it to come back next year. The BJP was check­mated as it was im­pos­si­ble for it to play its usual flaw­less dou­ble­s­peak.

I am asked what could be bad about en­sur­ing elim­i­na­tion of hunger and mal­nu­tri­tion. I would like to ask a counter ques­tion. What is good about the Food Se­cu­rity Bill?

It prom­ises to fi­nally elim­i­nate hunger and mal­nu­tri­tion, they say. How? Be­cause now the poor can buy wheat, rice and coarse ce­real at sub­sidised rates. How will the poor be iden­ti­fied, I ask; that will hap­pen, they say. Where will the poor buy from, I ask; the Pub­lic Dis­tri­bu­tion Sys­tem ( PDS), they say. Where? I ask again. The PDS shop, they say. And why will the PDS shop now sud­denly start work­ing when it has not for so many decades? Be­cause now it’s a right, and peo­ple can de­mand re­dres­sal from the courts, they say.

So let’s grant this— the PDS will now start to func­tion be­cause the Govern­ment will use bet­ter tech­nol­ogy. How will it work? The Govern­ment will buy grains from pro­duc­tion cen­tres, store and trans­port them to con­sump­tion cen­tres, and then sell them at sub­sidised rates through

PDS. Each of th­ese will cost. Of course the PDS sys­tem it­self will need to be strength­ened al­most every­where. This will also cost. The hi- tech sound­ing tech­nol­ogy is not cost­less; the Aad­har num­ber needs bio­met­ric iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. All of this will cost a lot. A pa­per com­ing from the Govern­ment’s own Com­mis­sion for Agri­cul­tural Costs and Prices ( CACP) puts the to­tal fig­ure at about Rs 682,000 crore over a three- year pe­riod. It is highly un­likely that the Govern­ment can spend this, and the sys­tem can­not work well un­less it is im­ple­mented well. Chi­dambaram, fight­ing his need­less forex bat­tles, can­not loosen the purse strings. And even if he does, no one in this Govern­ment has the abil­ity to im­ple­ment it. With­out some se­ri­ous money backed by se­ri­ous pro­ject man­age­ment skills the sub­sidised food will not reach where it is in­tended to. There will there­fore be leak­ages. The leak­age it­self is es­ti­mated at about Rs 200,000 crore by the CACP. Th­ese are all nitty- grit­ties of im­ple­men­ta­tion, but the Food Se­cu­rity Bill is in­her­ently flawed in many other ways.

Who will have con­trol over the whole process? They have not in­cor­po­rated the Pan­chay­ati Raj in­sti­tu­tions, be­cause they are not good enough. They have not in­volved the pri­vate sec­tor as they are ap­par­ently not to be trusted. The trader is of course re­spon­si­ble for ev­ery­thing that’s wrong with In­dia, so he can­not be used. So the only peo­ple who have any con­trol over its im­ple­men­ta­tion are the bu­reau­crats and politi­cians like Man­mo­han Singh or Sharad Pawar who will over­see them.

Fur­ther, the data shows that mal­nu­tri­tion is a prob­lem in In­dia. But aca­demic lazi­ness is ram­pant, and the de­sign­ers of the Act missed get­ting into the com­po­nents of mal­nu­tri­tion; it is es­sen­tially be­cause of poor ac­cess to pro­teins, iron, and other mi­cronu­tri­ents. Where do we get those from? Fruits, veg­eta­bles, pulses, beans, milk, meat, eggs and fish. What does the Food Se­cu­rity Bill not cover? Fruits, veg­eta­bles, pulses, beans, milk, meat, eggs, fish!

The Food Se­cu­rity Bill will not cause an im­me­di­ate disas­ter. But like the roots of the pi­pal tree it will slowly eat into the foun­da­tions of the In­dian so­ci­ety and econ­omy. Some of us will ben­e­fit greatly from it, en­joy its shade for many years to come; but the tree will ex­tract its price. It will worsen the mal­nu­tri­tion prob­lem as now calo­ries will be far cheaper com­pared with other nu­tri­ents. It will worsen the in­fla­tion prob­lem, as farm­ers will find it far more prof­itable to con­tinue pro­duc­ing wheat and rice when In­dia is de­mand­ing other foods. It will prove dis­as­trous for pri­vate agri­cul­ture trade and its whole ecosys­tem as the Govern­ment will crowd it out.

All of this is very pre­dictable, just as the cur­rent eco­nomic cri­sis was. Don’t take it lightly, it is not about Rs 120,000 crore or Rs 25,000 crore; this Act will weaken In­dia’s foun­da­tions.

SAU­RABH SINGH/ www. in­di­a­to­day­im­ages. com

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.