A campaign on “Right to Food for all” is being carried out by Lok Raj Sangathan in Delhi. Members and activists of Delhi Samiti of LRS, and workers are participating actively in the campaign.
It is well know that more than 35 crore people of our country go to bed hungry. This is nearly one-third of the country’s population and half the number of hungry people worldwide, although the total population of our country constitutes only one-sixth of the world's population. Our country has also the dubious distinction of having the largest number of malnourished women and children. Due to an unprecedented rise in the prices of food items in the past two years, the problem of hunger and malnutrition has become extremely acute. Government has not taken any effective steps to control the price.
The main aim of this campaign is to raise the demand of right to food for all Indians without discrimination. The workers and peasants of our country have been demanding the setting up of a universal modern public distribution system that will guarantee good quality food items in adequate quantity and affordable prices. Due to this pressure, the Congress led UPA government proposed a bill called the "National Food Security Act" (NFSA).
As part of the Campaign, street corners meetings are being organised across Delhi in various working class localities and JJ colonies. At these meetings, a visual presentation is being made on the proposed NFSA.
The presentation clearly demonstrates that the aim of the proposed Act is to create division amongst people, while denying food security to all. It aims at fooling the workers and peasants by the mere addition of the word “National” in the Act. This act is limited to providing 25 kg of food grain to each BPL family every month. No new mechanism has been proposed to implement this Act and it will be done through the existing PDS. People are already upset with this existing mechanism.
It must be noted that Targeted PDS (TPDS) was introduced in 1997 with the aim of destroying the PDS. This was done with a purpose to cut down on whatever limited facilities people had at that time. The commission given to the retail shopkeepers to supply food items through PDS was also kept at the same level, as a result of which, many shops were forced to close down. Those few shopkeepers who still run the shop are selling the food items meant for PDS in the black market. Consequently, essential items have hardly been available in the PDS.
Although the government has been procuring food grains from the farmers at the minimum support price, the grains thus procured have been accumulating in government godowns as the off-take has fallen due to targeted PDS and closing down of the ration shops.
Every family (of 5 members) should be provided with 35 kg per month of food grain (i.e., 7 kg/individual) at the fair price of Rs. 3/kg.
It is estimated that about 2 crore tons of grain will be harvested in the rabi season. The government has nearly 4 crore tons in its stock. When the rabi crop reaches the godowns, the stock will rise up to 6 crore tons. However the government godowns have a capacity of only 2 crore tons of grains in covered spaces. The remaining grains are stored in open spaces, where they rot or are eaten away by rodents. Despite having such large stocks of food items the prices are rising up.
The presentation clearly demonstrates that the excuse given by the government that “it does not have financial resources” is a lie. The government has enough resources to provide food for all people in the country. First, if the government were to provide 35 kg per month per family (of 5 persons) at Rs. 3/- per Kg, it will need Rs.1,20,000 crore in one year. The government spends Rs. 1,70,000 crore on defence, of which 70 percent goes into buying new weapons. Thus, if new weapons are not purchased, the government can easily provide food for all. Secondly, government has provided Rs. 2,10,000 crore as a bailout package for the capitalists to save them from the current economic crisis. This could have been used to provide food to people. Thirdly, the government spends Rs. 3,00,000 crore annually for paying back the interest on loan taken from various financial institutions. A large portion of this could have been saved by the government by declaring a moratorium on debt payment.
Further, the government will export wheat and rice in international markets at a lower price. This will fill government coffers, but will not feed our hungry people.
The presentation sums up that the selfish interests of the big capitalists is the real cause behind the price rise and destruction of PDS.
People have appreciated and applauded the presentation. They have realized from their own experience that the Congress and BJP are parties of the big capitalists. From local activists to national leaders, the representatives of these parties extract a tribute from people in the form of bribes to get a ration card.
It is evident from the campaign carried out by Lok Raj Sangathan, that more than half the people who fall under the below poverty line category did not get a ration card, even though they had applied for it as far back as 2007.
To sum up, the campaign has raised the following demands:
* Every family must be provided 35 kg of food grain every month at the rate of Rs. 3/- per kg.
* A modern public distribution system should be established that would provide all essential food items including sugar, cooking oil, pulses, salt, kerosene oil, tea powder, soaps, etc at affordable prices.
* Farmers should be supported by minimum support prices (MSP) for all agriculture produce. The increase in MSP every year i.e., very small compared to the rise in the cost of inputs required. MSP should be determined by the cost of inputs required.
* Wholesale trade in food items should be taken away from the hands of private players and distribution of food items should be handed over to people’s committees.