Feb 6, 2011

What's the truth behind Chhatisgarh's battle with hunger?

There is something that remains largely unexplained in Chhatisgarh in central India. And it pertains to hunger, food procurement and food security. There are some uncomfortable questions that have surfaced. We need to look at them dispassionately as it impacts the future food security programmes in the rest of the country. .

The Right to Food campaign eulogises it, and the Supreme Court appointed Food Commissioners swear by it. But if the revamped public distribution system which banks upon the underlying principle of local production, local procurement and local distribution is so successful then how come the rate of farm suicides has also progressed in the same proportion? Supriya Sharma of the Times Crest has raised this in a thought-provoking article entitled: "There is Truth and there are Statistics" (Times Crest Jan 22, 2011 available at: http://www.timescrest.com/society/theres-truth-and-there-are-statistics-4590).

Supriya asks: "From just half-a-million tonnes in 2000, the state government bought 4. 4 million tonnes of paddy last year, at a bonus of Rs 50, bringing the minimum price of paddy to Rs 1, 000 per quintal. During the same 10-year period, the number of suicides of those engaged in farming stayed consistently high, showing an upward graph since 2003, hitting an all-time high at 1, 802 suicides in 2009."

Well, ever since the government began providing rice at Rs 2 a kg, farmers to do not find any economic sense in producing it for themselves and their families. They now produce rice entirely for the market. After all, they can sell what they produce at Rs 10 a kg and in turn buy rice for their household requirement at Rs 2 a kilo. For all practical purpose this serves as a cash transfer scheme, providing some additional cash in the hands of farmers. It saves them Rs 8 on every kg of rice that they need for their family. Some belive that as much as 90 per cent of the rice produced in Chattisgarh therefore finds its way to the market.

She quotes Sanket Thakur, director of Agricon, a shareholder co-operative of farmers, who says:  "The statistics that are misleading are those of paddy production, " he claims. Thakur offers this logic:
if 8. 2 million tonnes of paddy was produced in the state, as claimed by agricultural department officials, but just 4. 4 million tonnes were procured by the government, where did the rest go?"

Another news report in The Economic Times (Sept 2, 2010) by M Rajshekhar under the head: 'New Food Rules' had in a way addressed the question posed above: "Ten years ago, Chhattisgarh grew 4 million tonnes of paddy, of which the state government acquired 300,000 tonnes, or 7.5% of the produce. In 2009-10, it grew 7.6 million tonnes; of this, 4.4 million tonnes, or 58%, was procured by the state. Of the rest, says Jaiswal, the state government official: “Only about 500,000 tonnes went to the mandis, the rest being retained by farmers as seeds or for self-consumption.”

The reason for 58 per cent paddy procurement is probably because: "For four years now, Chhattisgarh has been giving 35 kg of grain — comprising rice and wheat — a month at heavily subsidised rates to 3.6 million of its 4.4 million households. The ultra-poor pay Re 1 per kg, while the poor pay 2 per kg, against the market price of 12-17 a kg. The ration card is the document that enables this subsidised transfer." In other words, you get only 35 kg per family at a subsidised rate, which does not last more than 15 days. The rest has still to be purchased from the market, and therefore farmers are keeping part of the grain they produce for their own consumption.

This makes sense. But let us not forget the shift in food habits from the late NTR's popular scheme of providing Rs 2 a kilo of rice in Andhra Pradesh several years ago had led to the demise of the nutritious millets. I think it will be interesting to see what kind of changes the Rs 2 a kg (and Rs 1 per kg for the ultra poor) of rice scheme in Chhatisgrah brings about. 

Nevertheless, the question that Supriya Sharma raised in her article still remains valid. If the rice procurement is so effective why are the paddy farmers committing suicide? I would be glad if some people who have been closely involved and have been following the revamped PDS can enlighten us more.


Ramesh Dubey said...

आदरणीय देवेंद्र जी आपने छत्‍तीसगढ़ के बहाने जो सवाल उठाया है वह प्रासंगिक है । दरअसल महंगे धान बेचकर सस्‍ते चावल से गुजारा करने की प्रवृत्ति ने खेती-किसानी को एकांगी बनाया । फिर किसान केवल चावल खाकर तो जीवित नहीं रह सकता उसे पकाने-खाने के लिए खाद्य तेल, दाल, ईंधन की भी जरूरत पड़ती है और यह खर्च उन्‍हें अपनी ही जेब से करना पड़ता है । दूसरे, एकफसली खेती को बढ़ावा मिलने से मिट्टी की प्राकृतिक शक्‍तियां घट रही हैं जिससे धान उगाने की लागत बढ़ती जा रही है । तीसरे, जब भी पैसा कम परिश्रम से मिलता है तो वह अधिकतर अनुत्‍पादक कामों में लगता है जैसे शराब, वाहन । यही कारक मिलकर छत्‍तीसगढ़ के किसानों को आत्‍महत्‍या के फंदे तक पहुंचा रहे हैं । इसका उपाय यही है कि सरकारी खरीद को धान से आगे बढ़ाकर दालों, तिलहनों और सब्‍जियों में भी लागू किया जाए । इस समय छत्‍तीसगढ़ का किसान अपनी गोभी की खेती की फसल को रौंद रहा है तो इसका कारण है कि सरकार धान के आगे देख ही नहीं पा रही है ।

रमेश दुबे

Anonymous said...

this is interesting devinder
some time back there was also a news article in indian express regarding fudging of data in chhattisgarh on this


Mr. Fixated said...

On a separate note, I came across a documentary made by John Pilger on Food back in 1976. And it is even more relevant today. He called "Food" a weapon for global control. I am sure all of you will find this documentary of great value. Watch it at http://www.johnpilger.com/videos/zap-the-weapon-is-food

Anonymous said...

This is my experience as well. People below BPL are working less as they can afford food with just few days of work. While I agree to provide cheap food/facilities to poor, such scheames are stopping them to work.

I suggest, instead of giving rice at Rs 2, give them credit for Rs. 20 to be spent on medical or other house necesities.

Alongside, while daily wages have gone up significantly rice price should also be increased accordingly.

Government is doing injustice to tax payers by this scheme. One, tax payers money being used to provide cheap rice. Second, it has become tough to find labors now & labors are asking unnecessarily high amount for service. Eventually, cost of service, products & construction has gone high. Hence, unwanted inflation.