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Monday, March 22, 2010

It is Lucky to be Rats than Human Beings…


Our maid servant was washing utensils and a reporter on a TV channel was reporting the huge stocks of the food grains going waste, rats eating and spoiling the food when suddenly she said, “it’s better to be born as rats in India than as a poor human being.” And it hit me, hit me hard.
Why does it happen so?? Why our poor fellow citizens do not even get enough food to eat when millions of tones of food grains get just spoilt after spending billions of rupees? Where exactly things go wrong? Why none is bothered to think of the alternatives? The government spends more than 28 thousand crores on the Public distribution system every year and still thousands of children die of malnutrition and millions of people sleep with their stomachs half empty, starving for food. Why?
It won’t need a highly decorated economist to say that whenever two markets exist simultaneously, it’s natural that the goods from the low cost market will be moved to the higher cost market. We have a market of PDS for the below poverty line population and a regular open retail market for the rest of the population and since the PDS is a low cost market, the greed of the ration shop owners transfers the food grains to the higher cost open retail market. The corrupt machinery of the government helps this to happen and hence the black-marketing of the PDS food is often reported. So the government has to stop this co-existing two priced double market system and ensure that the food security is delivered to the poor & the needy.
A few have suggested to the government to replace the existing Public Distribution System by adopting an alternative such as Smart Card or Food Coupon for the people below the poverty line. The economic survey of the previous year also suggested implementing the Smart Card as an alternative to the corrupt & inefficient PDS. The Smart Cards will be electronically credited with the subsidy amount every month as per the government norms & the inflation percentage. The beneficiaries below the poverty line will go to any grocery store or super markets and will buy the food grains of their choice (variety & quality) and the store owner will swipe the card and will charge only the balance amount to the beneficiary. This system will enable the beneficiary to buy food as per his choice and he will be saved of the usual harassment that he faces at the hands of the ration store owner. The beneficiaries will not be forced live according to the whims of the ration store owner or according to the inefficient/inadequate and the corrupt functioning of the PDS officials. He will not be forced to eat the second grade, low quality food and of course, the government will not be required to buy, store and transport the millions of tones of food grains every year. The entire government machinery involved in this can e kept away and be utilized for something better.
Since, the involvement of the government in the agriculture produce markets will be eliminated; more stocks will be available in the market which will effectively rationalize the market prices to its natural level of equilibrium. The government will, actually be able to divert some part of the money spent on storage & distribution directly to the farmers as subsidies. A very strong objection usually is raised that in such a case, how will the poor adivasis, living in the remote villages where even PDS has not reached, survive? Where will they go to avail their food security? But the objectors sadly forget that how are these poor adivasis surviving today when even the existing PDS has not reached them?? It means that they have to go to the open market somewhere in their vicinity and hence in the same way, they will go to the same open market in their vicinity for buying food but now with a Smart Card.
It’s also important to note here that one of the rationales of the PDS is to enable the beneficiary to avail food of his choice & tradition habits. The latest survey by the government shows that 74% of the rural population in the Maharashtra and the 88% of the BPL population in the Maharashtra state eats course cereals such as Jawar, Nagli & Bajra as their main staple food. It’s the inherent culture of the people of Maharashtra to have these course cereals for hundreds of years. But the PDS offers wheat & Rice. These course cereals are neither bought by the government nor distributed through PDS. So, the families used to eat these have no option left but to either not avail their PDS food (which then invariable gets sold in the open market) & buy coarse cereals from retail market or sell their quota of PDS food and buy food of their choice from retail market.
The same survey also exposes the fact that the government had actually spent more on the subsidies for the Above Poverty Line population than on the subsidies for the Below Poverty Line population. All this can be avoided if the central government succeeds in putting off the pressure from the corrupt bureaucrats and the petty politicians and implements the Smart Cards to ensure the food security. It’s obvious that since politicians have their vested interests through their workers who invariably own or run the PDS ration shops and the bureaucracy has its own corrupt interests to oppose such a move. But the will to provide food security to the poor should supersede the vested interests and then only the poor will not feel lucky to be born as Rats instead of human beings.

3 comments:

  1. very well informed and very well expressed....
    food coupons can really be effective to make the PDS more effective...but it also needs the political will for the implication...and we lack that part...because the food coupons system will lessen the chances of corruption...
    also I would like to know your views about few things...
    1. Food security bill is going to be drafted soon...but there are 2 versions...
    Option A : Sonia version : 35kg @ Rs.3 foodgrains to all - BPL and APL holders
    Option B : Sharad Pawar version 25 to BPL holders...
    What do you think about this? do you believe that we should give the same benefits and subsidies to APL and BPL holders? should the govt bear the cost for APL holders also?
    @nd thing I would like to know is about the Wine from Foodgrains issue..I feel that if the govt gets a go ahead for the same, then the corruption in PDS will rise as grains for rationing will be diverted to the wine making process...
    do you really think that the farmer will get any benefit out of this?? will he get paid well atleast for making wine out of his produce???

    let me know your views....

    keep writing...

    amu

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  2. I feel that government should give higher subsidies to the BPL families and that too, directly. Abolishing two market system will automatically rationalize prices and hence, giving subsidies to APL won't be needed. As for making liquor(not wine) from coarse cereals, it will be disastrous for the farmers and the poor. You will read more on it in a separate blog

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  3. Niranjan, the problem is not the production of the grains but it is the way they are distributed. The grains never reach from the farm to the end customer directly, there are several layers of distribution channels for this. Each layer has its own bureaucratic procedures, which in India means the corruption. No one wants to fix this system because everyone involved is benefitted from it.
    Roti, kapda and makan was the basis for congress party in the 70s. Even forty years after that it is sad to realize a poor child in India still goes to bed hungry. However, in last 40 years, rich have become richer. When the Indian economy is growing so fast with the money folks and organization making in IT and other sector or the money that is being spent on buying an IPL team, it is mind boggling to see the disparity between the rich and poor.
    And don’t take it wrong, it is the mentality of Indians as well is responsible for this. We do not want to do anything about it, we only talk, we wait until someone fixes the problems for us. Unfortunately, that someone usually is a politician or a corrupt government official and over the pretense of fixing the problem, he takes the advantage of the system and makes the problem even worse than before.
    In US, we have food stamps for people who are below poverty level. Although there are conflicting opinions about the system, it ensures that poor will not go hungry. In US public schools until grade 12th breakfast and lunch is provided. If a family with children has a income below the federal standards, a child/children of that household can get a free or reduced cost meal at school. However, the child gets discounted meal does not mean he/se gets a different meal than that of a regularly priced meal. The menu/the line for food is the same for all children. Is this system feasible in India? Can we learn something from this system? May be?? Only if there is willingness to fix the system.

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