Mar 24, 2010
Supreme Court shows the mirror on hunger
Sometime your daily newspaper can inflict a pleasant surprise. The Hindustan Times has done it today. In a lead story, "SC report jolts Sonia Gandhi's scheme to fight hunger" (HT, Mar 24, 2010), followed by another report in the inside pages as well as an editorial, it has drawn attention to the national disgrace. I have always been of the opinion that if a major newspaper takes up an issue, even if it is as deep rooted and widespread as hunger and malnutrition, it can make a difference.
I only hope Hindustan Times becomes a catalyst in addressing the most demanding need of the day -- to eradicate hunger.
At the same time, hats off to former Supreme Court Justice D P Wadhwa, who recently submitted a report for the Supreme Court, widening the definition of poverty to every Indian earning less than Rs 100 a day. Since it comes from a Supreme Court panel I am sure it will be taken more seriously. I admire his courage (to say this openly) and his understanding of the ground realities, to propose quite a real poverty line. At present, the poverty line hovers around Rs 14 a day, which we all know is merely an apology.
But the tragedy is that none of the numerous committees, economic surveys and even the Supreme Court's own advisory body on Right to Food had highlighted the dire need to change the poverty line to a more meaningful figure if the issue of growing hunger has to be nipped in the bud.
Thank you, Justice Wadhwa. You have in one stroke done what all the macro economists and policy makers in the country had failed to do for over 60 years now.
This report assumes importance in the light of the proposed National Food Security bill that the Union Cabinet had cleared last week. The proposed bill actually reduced the family food intake that has to be supplied through the public distribution system (PDS) from 35 kg to 25 kg per family. To the BPL families, the 25 kg of foodgrains will be supplied at Rs 3 a kg, which means in actual terms the government has very cleverely reduced the food subsidy.
From the projected allocation of Rs 56,000 crore for 2010-11, the expenditure on food will come down to an estimated Rs 25,428 crore. What a shame. In a country, which fares much worse than sub-Saharan Africa when it comes to hunger and malnutrition, I don't understand why are we shying to fight hunger.
The government somehow gives an impression that the country does not have the money to feed the hungry. Nothing can be further away from truth. If the government could provide an unwanted Rs 3.5 lakh crore as economic stimulus to the industry (which in my opinion actually the industry did not need it), and also provide for Rs 5 lakh crore as revenue foregone in the 2010-11 fiscal, which are the sops and concessions to the industry and business, I see no reason why the government should say it has no money.
What it actually lacks is the political will to fight hunger.
Sonia Gandhi has very right expressed her desire to launch a bold effort to free the nation of hunger. I don't expect her to look at every clause and section of the proposed bill. The mandarins in the Food Ministry, Planning Commission and the Prime Minister Office (PMO) should have seized this opportunity to get the country rid of the shameful scourge of hunger. The fault lies squarely with them.
I hope Sonia Gandhi would take a relook at the proposed bill. There is need to make some radical and drastic changes, and launch a fresh attack on hunger. In some of my earlier postings on hunger, I had made some suggestions. I draw your attention to: http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.com/2009/07/can-india-make-hunger-history.html
Business as usual will only add on to hunger, and thereby fuel naxalism.
[The Hindustan Times report can be viewed at: http://www.hindustantimes.com/SC-report-jolts-Sonia-Gandhi-s-scheme-to-fight-hunger/H1-Article3-522605.aspx]