Punjab's doublespeak on food security (Punjab Newsletter)

By Jaideep Sarin : Chandigarh, August 2 : How's this for doublespeak? Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and his deputy chief minister son, Sukhbir Singh Badal, claim that the food security ordinance is a "copy" of the atta-dal scheme introduced by the Shiromani Akali Dal government in 2007, but other party leaders have described as "anti-farmer" and "half-cooked" the centre's scheme to provide highly-subsidised foodgrain to millions of poor people.

Punjab's word carries a lot of meaning when it comes to foodgrain. Punjab alone contributes over 50 percent of the foodgrain to the national kitty despite being a small state with just 1.54 percent of the country's geographical area. The state led the Green Revolution in the country in the 1950s and 1960s to make it self-sufficient in foodgrain production.

For Bathinda MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal, Sukhbir Badal's wife, the food security ordinance is a "vote security ordinance of the Congress and just a political gimmick". She accused the UPA government of "trying to woo the electorate in view of ensuing Lok Sabha polls with the half-baked food security ordinance".

Punjab Revenue Minister Bikram Singh Majithia, Sukhbir Badal's brother-in-law, too criticised the centre's move, saying that the scheme was not a realistic one.

But the Badal father-son duo has been describing the centre's scheme as a "copy" of Punjab's scheme. Badal claims that he is not opposed to the food security scheme but to the way it is being announced to attract votes.

To counter any impact of the centre's new scheme on foodgrain, Badal has announced that the state's own scheme will now cover three million people soon instead of the 1.5-1.6 million it is now covering.

While the politics of scoring brownie points on foodgrain continues, none of the top politicians seems concerned that every year, thousands of tonnes of foodgrain is damaged and destroyed because enough storage space has not been created even 65 years after India's independence.

Foodgrain, primarily wheat and rice, continues to rot in the open at several places across Punjab and Haryana, even as fresh stocks continue to add up twice every year.

Punjab and Haryana have not only been demanding more storage facilities, especially state-of-the-art silos where the foodgrain can be stored in a better way, but have also been seeking the centre's intervention to move surplus stocks to states that badly need them. Both demands have been facing bureaucratic delays in implementation.

For a country where hundreds die every year due to hunger, the wastage of foodgrain should be treated as a criminal liability. And politicians should focus more on this area with a proper policy on utilization of available stocks rather than in one-upmanship of announcing subsidy schemes to attract votes.

The centre's food security scheme aims to provide five kg of grain at Rs.1-3 per kg to 67 percent of India's population. It is expected to cost Rs.1.2 lakh crore (USD 22 billion) annually. The ordinance that has been promulgated for the purpose last month would have to be ratified by parliament within six months. Parliament's monsoon session begins August 5.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)

--IANS (Posted on 02-08-2013)

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