At the culmination of the five-day dharna on food security organised by the Left parties in New Delhi from July 30 to August 3, 2012, the leaders of the Left parties – Prakash Karat (General Secretary, CPI[M]), S. Sudhakar Reddy (General Secretary, CPI), Debabrata Biswas (General Secretary, AIFB) and Abani Roy (Secretary, RSP) – met the Prime Minister on August 4 and submitted a memorandum to him on the need for an amended food security legislation to be brought in the Parliament.
The text of the memorandum is given below.
Dear Dr. Manmohan Singhji,
The Left parties have held a nationwide campaign on the issues concerning food security. This phase of the struggle ended with a five day sit-in protest at Jantar Mantar attended by thousands of people from all over the country. Representatives of different States presented their experiences and highlighted the adverse impact of relentless food inflation on the lives of common people. There was a unanimous rejection of the draft Food Security Bill presently before the Parliamentary Standing Committee. We write this memorandum to draw your attention to what we consider are the critical issues.
1. India produces enough foodgrains to ensure a food security system which covers all sections of the people. The targeted system introduced as part of the so-called economic reforms from the decade of the nineties has proved to be a failure. Large sections of people who require subsidized foodgrains are excluded. It has been shown that in a country like India, with a large majority of the workforce in the unorganized sector with no fixed income, the errors of exclusion far outweigh those of inclusion in a targeted system. With the largest numbers of hungry people in the world, India requires a comprehensive and inclusive food security system, which can only be provided by scrapping the targeted system and replacing it with a universal system.
2. With the relentless increase in prices of food items, a universal public distribution system can also help to keep market prices down. Dal, edible oil and other essential commodities should be supplied through the public distribution system. Many State Governments using their own funds, however limited, are providing foodgrains at one or two rupees a kilo. The central food security system therefore must keep the prices of foodgrains down to a maximum of two rupees a kilo. We therefore believe that it is only reasonable that a minimum of 35 kg of foodgrains at a maximum price of two rupees should be provided.
3. The experience of targeting is not just in poor implementation but more fundamentally linked to the estimates of poverty converted into daily poverty lines and State wise quotas by the Planning Commission. You well know of the national outrage against the poverty line figures given by the Planning Commission to the Supreme Court of Rs. 26 for an adult in rural India and Rs. 32 for an adult in urban India at 2010-2011 prices. We have learnt that yet another committee has been set up to look at poverty estimates afresh. We strongly oppose the linkages between Planning Commission estimates with either food security or other welfare rights and schemes. The present questionnaire for the BPL census also raises many questions as it is designed to exclude rather than include the deprived. This further underlines the urgent necessity for universalizing the right to food.
4. India can have a successful food security programme only if the kisans of India are protected from the volatility of market manipulation by powerful lobbies. In this connection the recommendation of the National Farmers Commission is for an MSP based on the actual cost of production, which is constantly rising given the increase in the prices of fertilizer, diesel, pesticides, seeds, electricity and other inputs plus a 50 per cent profit margin. This is an important aspect of providing food security.
5. At present the Government is holding around 5 crore tonnes of surplus stocks of foodgrains. In the name of “liquidating the stocks” the Government has decided to export the grains. Already 25 lakh tonnes have been exported. The grains are given at subsidized prices to private traders. Substantial amount of this grain will be ultimately used as cattle feed in developed countries. We believe that the grains should be distributed universally. Particularly at a time when India is facing one of its worst droughts, export of foodgrains is shortsighted and will only benefit big agribusinesses. We are against exports at this time.
6. All these issues should be reflected in the Food Security Bill. Instead it is unfortunate that the Bill seeks to push the so-called reform process further by linking the APL subsidy to acceptance by the States of certain objectionable conditions such as introduction of cash transfers, AADHAR cards etc. Cash transfers at a time of high food inflation will erode even the present inadequate allocations apart from other factors such as possible diversion of the funds for other pressing needs. In any case such conditions are an attack on the federal character of the constitution and an encroachment on the rights of the States. The Bill gives overriding powers to the Central Government. The present Bill also legalizes targeting in a new form by introducing three categories of general (APL), priority (BPL) and automatically excluded sections. We find this highly objectionable. We believe that the Bill in its present form will legalise food insecurity and must be radically changed so as to include:
Minimum allocation of 35 kg of foodgrains of reasonable quality per family at the maximum price of two rupees a kilo.
This should be a legally enforceable universal right, scrapping APL/BPL divisions.
Conditions such as cash transfers should be eliminated.
The Food Security Bill should be suitably amended and presented in the forthcoming session of Parliament.
We hope that you will consider our views and take appropriate action.
Prakash Karat, General Secretary, CPI(M)
S. Sudhakar Reddy, General Secretary, CPI
Debabrata Biswas, General Secretary, AIFB
Abani Roy, Secretary, RSP