fci godown
Dr Kiran Kumar Karlapu
A Critique on Proposed Food Security Bill
This article originally appeared in centreright.in. CRI content has now been subsumed in swarajyamag.com. The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of swarajyamag.com

Yet another pearl drops from the basket of the ignited minds that hover over the decision making process of India donning the cloaks of the NAC. Where economics fears to enter, electoral politics rushes in.

I have just gone through the draft of the Food Security Bill, 2011 and the first thing I searched for is a “Sunset Clause”. It is nowhere in sight. Well, to give our legislators the benefit of doubt, most statutes don’t have them. But this is no ordinary piece of legislation.

This is a law that possesses the capacity to lift millions out of poverty, or conversely push the entire nation into debt and financial ruin. The conservative estimates ( Of course these shall continue to rise like the blood pressure of a student as exams approach) of the funds required to get the FSB rolling is Rs 131,000 crores. This is almost the size of the annual financial budget of a decently large Indian state.

Without a sunset clause, the FSB will be a charity in perpetuity and an exercise in futility.

Anyway what is Food Security? After a reasonably long slumber of three score and five years, the Central government has randomly has decided that 75% percent of rural India and 50% of urban India are below the poverty line and require subsidized food grains. After 65 years of proud independence, doesn’t such a revelation about the absolute numbers of poor seem, umm.., a tad shameful?

For a civilization which reveres its land and prosperity, and proclaims “annam bahu kurveeta” (Grow food in abundance) in the Taittriya Upanishad, meek acceptance of such dismal figures is pathetic.

We built massive dams at Bhakra and Nagarjuna Sagar, ushered in High Yielding Varieties, created a massive grid for power supply, ran rail and road lines crisscrossing the great land, built the IITs and IIMs, sent satellites upto the heavens and launched missiles into the skies and preserved democratic propriety to a great extent. Yet all of it pales in comparison to the figures that even today 75% percent of your villagers are below the poverty line..

Next. What should you do when you realize a large part of your nation is hungry and starving? You ought to reach to them and help them rebuild their lives. Water in their fields, electricity in their factories and spinning mills, teachers in their schools and doctors in their health centres, piped gas in their kitchens and reliable loan facilities. What does India do?

We give them free (nearly free) food.

This is not responsible governance. This is not even governance. This is the worst form of forced re-distribution of resources that is humanly imaginable. This is the condescending attitude of an inherently ossified system which considers doles and grants a matter of great benefaction and magnanimity, and expects the ill-fated recipients of such a transaction to be eternally grateful and genuflect before the ruling classes and meekly vote them back into Lutyen’s Delhi. This is the end product of a moth eaten manuscript of Socialism that still pervades the ruling classes and is tom-tomed as a panacea to India’s problems.

Socialism hasn’t ever helped India. The only thing it has done is portray the capitalist as an archetypical villain who must be stopped at all costs. Strikes, Lockouts, License and Permit Raj, and Inspector Raj. This has only caused people to hide their money rather than respectfully proclaim it. Ergo. Black Money. This has aided people in high places to control the means of production. Ergo. Crony Capitalism. Lack of Competition. Low Productivity. I think we should rename the Nehruvian Socialism that was followed in India. It should be called “Social Exclusion”.

The FSB attempts to foist these antedated ideas of benevolent paternalism but cleverly masks it in a veneer of improving the lifestyle of the population.

Then there are the issues which cannot be quantified in monetary terms. The most important issue among such is the issue of self-respect. The FSB is an attempt to undermine the self-respect of the nation. The nation really needs to introspect about its future as a leader of the free people of the world if it still treats its own poor as patients who need a ventilator. The problem with assisted ventilation is that it needs to be removed after a decent time and the patient is allowed to try to respire on his own. With the FSB, the so called “poor and destitute” of India shall remain on an eternal ventilator, bereft of opportunity and motivation to think big or work hard. The FSB shall incentivize claims of backwardness and poverty rather stories of successful migration across the poverty line.

Has anyone got any statistics of how many castes or tribes that have risen out of the clutches of exclusion and successfully become prosperous communities, after the extensive implementation of Reservations at every level? I don’t think a single community has moved out of the reservation bracket. Everyone loves to have things the easy way. Why go out and find work when the government offers to throw cheap, highly subsidized food at you?

Instead of making India a nation of innovators, entrepreneurs and workmen, this FSB shall only make it a land of sloths and uninspired young men and women. We cannot afford to let that happen. We need an aspirational leadership which promises assistance based on performance, rather than pathos. I would be exceptionally happy if my leader promises me skill upgradation or seamless powerless supply rather than subsidized food. Subsidised food shall only work to bridge a consumption gap but not help elevate a person out of long term poverty.

India does have the poorest of the poor, the destitute and the starving. I do agree. But they haven’t been excluded out of social welfare programmes until now. The Antyodaya Anna Yojana, a part of the Targeted PDS schemes, the mid-day meals scheme of certain states and the Anganwadis are existing schemes, which for all their failures have met with reasonable success and universal acceptance. This FSB seeks to subsume all these projects within itself. This, I am afraid, will reduce the efficiency and reach of the former than lend teeth to the latter. Instead of creating yet ANOTHER bill and law to deal with the situation, we should merely strengthen existing structures and plug loopholes. Expanding the scope of the Antyodaya Anna Yojana would have been a start. But our government prefers to take the road of the grand announcements and flagship programmes.

As Annapoorneshwari sits in Kashi fretting over the stupidity of the rulers of Hastinapura, myopia pervades our establishment like the ether that pervades the Brahmanda.

Its indeed surprising that not even one learned member of the NAC has ever heard of the following quote

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

*All views expressed are personal. Opinions spoken here are observations voiced as private individual.

Dr Kiran Kumar Karlapu  is @ScarySouthPaw on twitter.