No sooner has the Food Security Bill passed muster in the Rajya Sabha that the lobbies went in full blast to chase their dreams. One such lobby is the GM crops lobby that has sponsored editorials in national newspapers strongly advocating grant of permission for GM crops and Bt brinjal cultivation. Quoting the success of the Bt cotton crop the lobby seeks cultivation of other genetically modified crops to increase farm production. As the food security programme of India will create massive food grains requirement, GM crops seem to lend their share in actualising the programme on ground. The benefit to the cotton farmers who opted for Bt cotton growing is sought to be underlined by the increase in income per hectare of cultivation. However these are only numbers and will prove loss in incomes if indexed properly. The touted figure of an increase by 2-3 thousand is no achievement. Besides, the real damages will surface after a few decades when the farm lands will show real results of changed crop seeds.
It is still debatable if the GM crops will yield food grains, vegetables etc. as good in quality as the traditional crops. The farm produce currently being marketed under the brand “organic” command more than double the price of the other varieties grown by farmers using chemical fertilizers and insecticides etc. and even non-traditional seeds. Undoubtedly the organic farm produce ( grains and vegetables) taste far better. A variety of potatoes, obviously engineered, contains nothing more than water- it looks like a balloon of brown water and tastes horrible. Many more daily use vegetables have lost their taste, nutrition value and shelf life because of the engineering and chemical overuse. Such produce threaten the available food security also. Even in America, campaign for food production without GM or chemical fertilizers has resulted in a distinct consumer preference for natural foods. In India this preference is expressed in favour of organic food.
One limitation of democracy is that a government may promise something, as food security under this piece of legislation; but when the consequences start flowing, it will be another set of people, who will disown all responsibility. But the damage already done cannot be undone. So the promised security would turn in to insecurity in due course. With wheat imported from America under the PL-480 programme came the Parthenium Hysterophorus seed also. It has stayed here since the decade of the 1960s- everywhere in the country this white flowering plant can be seen in abundance. All government efforts to destroy these plants have come to nought. One estimate puts the area it has infested at nearly 350 lakhhectares, including arable land.
What will happen with GM crops? Under the requirements of the food security programme, governments would be pressurised to accept and promote these crops. So a time will come when the poor will be fed the GM produce under the food security programme and the rich will be provided organic food. The rich will be the global rich, not merely the Indian rich. There is reason to believe so. Under the garb of GM crops and FDI will come multinational giants, who will establish monopolies that will marginalise the small farmers further. As a part of neo-colonialism, it will dominate the Indian agricultural economy. Coupled with the dominance of the market through multi-brand retail, it will command the economy of the country. It would export to industrialized countries organic food produced by cheap farm labour and feed us engineered food.
Food security is conceived to assure three things: adequate availability of food grains and other farm produce such as daal or lentils; easy access of the people to food; and use of food by the target population. As availability is dependent on agriculture, which is dependent on natural factors like the monsoon etc., even the most advanced technologists cannot guarantee production of adequate food in the world or a particular country. No such guarantee can ever be given for a country like India for various reasons, though the cultivation area can be increased to increase production. So far the country has been safe, thank God, the farmer and then the government and their scientists, but hoping to be so secure for ever would be irrational. The food security programme demands that scientific methods may be devised to arrive at programmes and practices to ensure adequate food production in the country only, so that there never arises a situation of shortages necessitating bartering away the nation’s Food Sovereignty. We had experienced humiliation in the past and would not like to suffer it again.
Next comes the accessibility of the poor to food. Though the price is nominal- it can’t be free for financial/accounting reasons- the unemployed poor may not be able to afford it. A poor man has no permanent habitat as he owns no dwelling. Millions carry the tag of street children/families. Where can such a person store the food issued to him by the government under this programme? So he may either not buy it or get tricked in to allowing somebody else to buy it in his name for a part of it or a pint of local brew or drug or some such thing. There are millions of Indians who work when employed for the day or part of it and collect their daily wages and eat. When they fail to get the work they return to their homes (?) and eat a dinner of air & water and go to sleep. Those needing proof are invited to visit the several labour markets in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Patna, Lucknow, Varanasi, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Chandigarh, Amritsar, Shimla, and other cities or smaller towns. They are the people who are the target group and in whose name such legislations are passed without proper debate in an election year.
The food security bill promises to remove the impediments to access to food to the poor. But it does not guarantee its use by the poor. As in the case of accessibility remaining un-facilitated as delineated above, use of food by the targeted population may also remain in statistics. The Food Minister had admitted on the floor of the Parliament that there was 30% pilferage of food grains etc. under the existing Public Distribution System (PDS). The figure of 30% is after surgical pruning by the bureaucracy which is known for their skills in concocting statistics. The PDS is continuing since the early days of PL-480 kind, even though India had become self- sufficient and exporting food grains country several years ago! One need not go beyond the pilferage figures mentioned by the minister in the parliament to look for reasons. The well entrenched kleptocratic lobbies have developed deep roots in the political system of the country in the past more than 60 years in turning pilferage of not only food grains but every national asset in to a strong bargaining lever for government formation, functioning and winning vote of confidence in the parliament or state legislatures. For them, this will be Godsend. They are bound to return the favour the government is doing them, by winning for them as many seats as possible. After all, what can’t be won in elections with the help of money & muscle power in India? Keeping the pilferage at 30% only, it works out to more than 38000 crores of rupees worth pilferage (30% of 125000 crore subsidy estimated by the Food minister). This amount is enough to influence the outcome of elections in more than 350 constituencies, a number more than required to form a stable government (the requisite number is 273 only). Everybody has been asking for the reasons for such a hurry to pass the Food Security Bill. Does it need to be asked? Because the target groups will not be able to “use” the supplies under the Food Security programme, the objectives of the legislation remain unfulfilled. In the circumstances, there will be no Food Justice in India. The selection of the beneficiaries is yet to be made.
Who will get selected? For rupees 1500 anybody can manage to get selected. All party workers get rewarded irrespective whether they qualify or not, whether poor or rich. The sole qualification is “party worker”. The interesting aspect is that all parties have these workers and in the accelerated competitive decline in political morality in democratic India, this pilferage is unlikely to decline in the near future. All parties have ruled in the states and some at the centre, but none ever tried to plug such huge theft of public property, none came to the rescue of the poor, who were deprived of the “use” of food meant for them. What has been happening for the past 60 years shall not stop suddenly only because the new legislation is called the Food Security Bill.
It would be observed that the Food Security programme fails on all the three counts of adequate availability, access and use and tends to threaten Food Sovereignty and also compromise Food Justice. It is no great achievement. What the Indian people need is employment. The government has done nothing concrete in this direction. All that it has done is to promise programmes for skill development, but here again the figures are unnecessarily bloated. Mahatma Gandhi understood the need for such mass scale employment. His Charkha or the spinning wheel was a symbol of such a productive employment generating programme. Instead of making tall claims the Khadi & Village Industries programme promised the vast masses of the country some gainful employment rather than none. The programme had all the ingredients of a modern industrial society, such as flexi timing for workers, engagement for women, work at the dwelling place, raw material, market, training, skill development, credit etc. Nobody said it matched high paying industrial jobs. But has anybody been able to provide those jobs even to graduates, engineer or doctors? They are termed “unemployable”. Nothing much is going to change in the near future. Large industry or even the medium industry will not be able to provide mass scale employment in the country. It will be provided by the small and tiny industry. There is great scope for improving production and marketing techniques in this sector. The past few years have ignored this potential employment generating sector. The Khadi & Village industry sector has been ruined in misplaced planning priorities. The changing global economic scenario and the developing new economic world order are bound to put greater pressure on countries like India, whose exports shall shrink greatly. In the new economic scenario, there may be sudden loss of markets for Indian products and services. Unless we take steps in advance, such an economic avalanche would destabilize our economy to an extent worse than the present one where neither man nor money are secure.
There is an urgent need for our Members of Parliament to put their heads together and apply cold logic to the implementation of the food security programme, now that the law is in their hands, which they can enforce as they will at any time.